Every year in China two million trucks are manufactured. And about 30 million are currently traveling their roads. They are one of the pillars of economic dynamism which has made the Asian giant the second world power. But they are also a big headache for the country's government that more contaminates of the planet: the inefficient diesel engines of the majority are an environmental and public health pump.
The Government has taken action on the matter. “It has decreed that the new China VI standards (equivalent to Euro VI) for new trucks be met next year, and the goal is that in 2025 between 10% and 20% of the entire market belongs to non-polluting vehicles ”, He explains to THE COUNTRY Retina Xuan Gao, deputy director of the Shaanxi Commercial Vehicles Company, known abroad as Shacman.
The problem is that manufacturers are still far from those quotas. In fact, Shacman herself acknowledges that only 4% of all the trucks she sells are powered by clean energy. "The Authorities are forcing producers to modernize both vehicles and production systems," adds Xuan in Baoji, where Shacman has inaugurated its new assembly line, which is firmly committed to automation.
But communist leaders do not want to wait for all companies to follow in the footsteps of Shacman and have already begun to limit the circulation of the most polluting trucks. Cities like Beijing have banned this year the entry of heavy vehicles that do not meet the most demanding standards, and the northern provinces, most affected by truck pollution, restrict their movements on days with high atmospheric pollution. In addition, although China has implemented European emission standards with a delay of between 8 and 10 years, now he has decided to take the lead and China VI-b, which will enter into force in 2023, is even stricter than its counterpart in the Old Continent.
Until that time comes, hybrids are the strongest bet in the industry. “A profound transformation of the sector is coming. But electric trucks will only be attractive vehicles for transport when we manage to substantially increase the autonomy of the batteries, ”says Xuan. Meanwhile, the technology that combines both worlds is seen as the only way out to comply with the regulations without losing competitiveness.
It is not necessary to be an expert to certify that this thick black cloud left behind by many of the vehicles is unhealthy. And it is not a problem of carbon dioxide, but of nitrogen oxide, more harmful to the body. 57.3% of this pollutant in the most populous country in the world comes from diesel trucks, although they represent only 7.8% of all motor vehicles in China.
Aware that all of the above remains insufficient to successfully combat pollution, the Government has already activated additional plans. For example, raise the quality of diesel to reduce the most harmful emissions. Two years ago, the northeastern provinces also approved a plan to reduce the transport of their products by road and increase the use of the railroad, which pollutes thirteen times less but is underutilized in its carrying capacity.
Undoubtedly, the fact that the State controls the main industrial companies makes it easier for this type of plan to be fulfilled. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has made the construction of a ecological society one of his top priorities, and when he came five years ago he came to power he declared war on pollution. The replacement of coal as a source of energy for renewables, the modernization of the industry, the reduction of its excess capacity, and the closure of a multitude of polluting factories have yielded positive results, especially in large metropolises.
But there's still too much to do. Between January and April, for example, he smog in the northern provinces It grew again. In the 337 cities that are taken as a reference, the levels of suspended particles remain stable, but outside the parameters that China itself considers acceptable - 35 micrograms per cubic meter - and around twice the maximum stipulated by the World Organization Of the health. This juncture is related to up one million premature deaths a year and even with natural abortions, and has an estimated economic cost of about 34,000 million euros annually.
In the automotive sector, key to solving the problem, the green revolution also adds another technology: the one that will boost the development of autonomous trucks. “We already have several level 4 - no driver, but with preset routes - designed to operate in controlled environments such as ports and mines. The former have been in operation at the port of Tianjin for a year and a half, and the latter will be ready soon. The development of the system is complex, and requires that everything be checked to the millimeter to avoid failures that can lead to accidents, ”explains Tian Lei, chief engineer of the China National Heavy Duty Truck, known as Sinotruk.
During a visit to the company's Jinan plant, Lei emphasizes that this technology significantly increases the efficiency and safety of vehicles. However, he believes that the deployment of level 5 autonomous trucks - capable of moving without a driver in any environment and outside of predetermined routes - will take time to materialize. "The traffic rules are not yet appropriate for them, but they will arrive," he adds.
And when they do, the sector will shake again. “Because one of the difficulties involved is in the transformation that they require within the manufacturing companies, since their technology is different: we must include very powerful software that, in general, is developed by technology companies with which there are that increase cooperation, ”explains Lei. However, when Sinotruk has its electric and autonomous trucks ready, it will not hesitate to market them outside its borders.
"Our plans are to take all our products to international markets - Sinotruk currently sells between a fifth and a quarter of its production abroad - because we believe we can have a great competitive advantage in price, but its adaptation to regulations local takes time, ”says Lei. And Xuan thinks the same: “The fact that Chinese products have special acceptance in developing countries can also be an incentive for them to adopt the cleanest ones. In fact, we are already cooperating with countries like Russia to introduce electric vehicles and determine new standards. ‘Made in China’ is no longer a bad quality, but a good value for money, ”he concludes.
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