The entrance to the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School is adorned with a sign that reads, “Ductus Exemplo.”
From Latin it translates to “Leadership by Example,” and this essentially underwrites the ethos of Easy Truck Rental.
The opportunity to explore a post-diesel road transport future was enough to convince entrepreneur, Jon Hui, to recently get involved in the burgeoning truck rentals sector.
As the Managing Director of Easy Truck Rentals, Jon is an advocate of what he calls consolidation disruption, wherein several businesses are consolidated into one using alternatives to internal combustion vehicular technology as the point of difference.
Open for business in August 2022, the fledgling start-up raised capital through investment partners with a goal that the business eventually, within the next three years, moves to a green fleet model. The first four Hino Hybrid Electric 300 Series units of a much larger order with Sci Fleet Hino, were introduced into the fleet recently as part of this long-term goal.
“We play our part in driving the transition from diesel to hybrid-electric and then eventually to full EV,” explains Jon. “It’s our mission.”
The plan for the business is to have a large, mostly flexible fleet of hybrid and electric trucks, perhaps the largest in Australia in good time. This, of course, will mean, having to scale the business up fast.
“In effect we will eventually introduce and begin to transition toward a tech business in the logistics and transport space. Trucks and vehicles we have on the fleet are just a means to that end,” Jon says. “We want to develop and enable platforms with a green focus.”
At present, Hino offers the only hybrid electric-diesel truck in the local market. It was the first Japanese manufactured light-duty truck in Australia to meet Euro 6 exhaust emissions standards.
The technology is given to the moment.
Many improvements have been made to the parallel electric-diesel hybrid driveline since it debuted in the local market.
The result? Significant reductions in fuel consumption and efficiency gains that all flow to the all-important bottom line.
In terms of what is presented, Jon says that the Hino 300 Series Hybrid Electric and traditional diesel trucks look and drive the same, meaning there is no need for peripheral charges and other additional costs to implement the technology.
This makes them familiar and easier to market to customers who might be looking to cut down on emissions and are still on the fence with Full EV commercial vehicles.
To date, Jon has been active with roadshows and secured a couple of pilot programs with government bodies as part of delivering proof of concept.
As a conservative industry and a critical part of the overall supply chain, road transport is naturally resistant to disruptive change. This accounts for much of the hesitancy towards electric vehicles according to Jon.
With this in mind, the Easy Truck team is investing to build a platform to drive the change to EV.
“Talking to OEMs they say that if potential customers trial the vehicles, there’s a good chance that they will add them to their fleet,” Jon says. “Few smaller to mid-size companies want to be the first to invest the Capex into EV commercial and find out that they went too early and have supply issues. Especially when margins for last mile delivery can be thin.”
EV truck uptake will likely drive the changes through a B2B model. At least that’s the idea, in which the hybrid and electric truck option is introduced into fleets with key strategic relationships built over time.
Through this mechanism it will become more common to have EV on fleet. It’s how the market starts to shift in a wholesale way according to Jon.
Progress is being made. Easy Truck Rentals has recently started proof of concept agreements with industry recruitment company, Dynamic Solutions Australia and national storage provider, Kennards Self Storage.
“The customer needs to go through a paradigm shift to adopt EV,” says Jon. “A hybrid electric is still a 20m3 Pantech. For now, they just see a standard truck with a battery and a fuel tank with a hybrid electric driveline.”
Hybrid Electric trucks after all, go to fuel stations like a conventional ICE vehicle. Jon believes there will be a tipping point soon whereupon take up of hybrid truck technology will accelerate not unlike what happened with hybrid cars.
“I don’t see a program rolling out 1,000 fast chargers everywhere for the trucks soon, a bit more take up and software compatibility is needed,” he says. “You can’t take an EV truck down to a car charging station and charge it like you can a Tesla.”
Charging infrastructure will come in time. The four Hino Hybrid 300 Series vehicles on the Easy Truck Rental fleet have provided Jon, who has driven them, with major learnings.
His initial expectation, he admits, was that they would be more like a hybrid car.
“I realised that the electric component of the hybrid electric truck actually operates as a supplementary power supply,” he says. “Essentially the engine is going all the time and the battery selectively sends supplementary electric power to the drive motor to minimise fuel use under acceleration.”
Electricity is collected during deceleration and stored in a nickel metal hydride battery, which is not dissimilar to the technology on 15 million Toyota hybrid vehicles in use worldwide.
On the Hino 300 Series Hybrid Electric the power control unit manages the battery, inverter, engine control unit and DC-to-DC converter. This was only redesigned three years back with an emphasis on weight saving, resulting in a notable loss of 28 kilograms. Despite reducing the battery size, it still retains its 6.5 Amp Hour (AH) rating.
For Jon, there was a whole education required around that. Another discovery he made is that the big savings and the efficiency gains are largely in stop-start, and metropolitan routes.
“If you’re driving from Brisbane to Melbourne the hybrid system doesn’t need to do a lot because the diesel engine is already in its most fuel-efficient operating state,” says Jon.
Around town, however, is where the hybrid really comes into its own.
With the vast majority of 3.5-tonne and 4.5-tonne trucks being used for last mile delivery and DIY self-drive rentals, Jon is confident the Hino 300 Series Hybrid Electric is going to be successful in this segment.
Hino’s own sales from last year attest to this. The Hino 300 Series Hybrid is its fastest growing model over that 12-month period.
“On short haul, with all the stopping and starting, moving up and down hills, the hybrid system recycles so much otherwise lost energy and puts that back into the driveline,” says Jon. “The regenerative technology is very efficient, and this operates as an inbuilt generator continually attempting to capture the kinetic energy of the moving vehicle and fill the battery back-up, for use on take-off and during acceleration.”
Two of the main selling points, for Jon, are a reduction in fuel consumption and subsequent reduction in exhaust emissions — Hino Australia trials have revealed up to 22 per cent reduction in fuel use and a similar reduction in CO2 emissions.
Easy Truck Rentals is soon to run a customer trial with a courier. It will encompass a 70-stop metro route over an eight-hour cycle.
“We’re testing the OEM claims at the coal face” he says. “And so far, our tests show a hybrid truck does deliver notable fuel savings.”
Because of its Euro 6 classification, hybrid is a logical extension for fleets chasing environmental governance metrics that can open doors for government contracts and to work with major corporations, given their requirements.
Jon’s view on hybrid uptake in the retail short-term rental market has been softened somewhat, for now, as price remains a major driver of choice, particularly in that market.
“In time, Easy Truck Rental will be a national business with a well-earned reputation for having a respectable hybrid truck fleet and having got in early to drive the shift,” he says.
Hybrid is also a soft landing to convert into EV. Drivers are free from the worry they might run out of battery mid-route.
For fleet managers, renting a hybrid, Jon believes, offers an opportunity to ease into it.
“Get your drivers on side and sharpen your route planning,” he says. “Test for yourself the fuel efficiencies and see if you, too, get the benefits in reduced running costs.”