Eu(ro)topia: Maintenance mayhem or employee education?

Eu(ro)topia: Maintenance mayhem or employee education?

We’ve featured the pros and cons in the African context of engines that adhere to higher European emission standards, with both parties presenting a strong case. But what effect does this new technology have on vehicle maintenance in Africa? FOCUS investigates

There are those that say that cross-border trade will be destroyed if vehicles with higher Euro ratings become mandatory in our country, as fuel for these units isn’t widely available on the African continent. These vehicles are also harder to maintain and repair, due to the fact that the newer technology requires updated and relevant skills.

Others say that we’ve got a social responsibility to do what we can for the environment, as vehicles adhering to the lower European emission standards are killing our planet. They also highlight the fact that the fuel efficiency of newer vehicles provides significant cost savings.

Whichever stance you take, it’s going to be a while before the debate really reaches boiling point, however, as the South African government has set 2017 as the date for cleaner fuel (the type that is ideal for Euro-5 vehicles) to be made available by refineries. Until then, operators who are running Euro-2 engines are well within the parameters of the law. (There are, however, Euro-5 and hybrid vehicles already running in our country.)

But exactly how different are the maintenance requirements between the vehicles with different Euro ratings? Rory Schulz, general manager of corporate planning and marketing at UD Trucks Southern Africa, explains.

“The earlier advances that were made to achieve the higher standards (Euro 2 and 3) can be ascribed to better combustion efficiency, by way of design of inlet and exhaust components, as well as better combustion chambers – thus mechanical items.” He adds: “The injection systems operate under higher pressures and timing, with the fuel quantity electronically controlled. Turbocharging and intercooling were also used for improvement.”

However, from Euro 4 onwards, the focus moved towards treating the gas produced after combustion. “This includes diesel particulate filtration, exhaust gas recirculation and, of course, specific catalytic converters as well the incorporation of urea to clean the emissions,” Schulz tells FOCUS.

“What this means is that technicians need a far greater skill level on the electronic side of things, rather than just the mechanical side,” he adds. “Tolerances are far lower, so accuracy and quality of work become critical, as well as the ability to use high-tech diagnostic equipment.”

Mark Gavin, national sales director of DAF, states that the use of electronic diagnostic equipment facilitates faster turnaround times in the workshop – which translates into more uptime. However, it doesn’t matter how quickly a vehicle is serviced, if it goes in for maintenance it can’t go to where it needs to be … So the number of times it goes to the workshop plays a massive role as well.

“Depending on the fuel used, and its sulphur content, there may be different service intervals between Euro-2 and Euro-5 vehicles,” Gavin points out. “For example, incorrect fuel can have a serious impact on the selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems of a Euro-5 vehicle.” He continues: “There is also a vast range of lubricants available that impact on the service intervals – depending on the use of mineral, synthetic or semi-synthetic oils.”

So there are a myriad of factors that play a role when it comes to vehicle maintenance, which in turn affects operating costs – a major factor when it comes to vehicle selection. Schulz adds: “We believe that our vehicles are popular because they are cost effective to own and operate, and not due to Euro emissions standards. Our vehicles comply with either Euro 2 or 3.”

He continues: “In real terms we face two types of emission issues: one is the impact on humans, as it causes ill health, and the second is the impact of the greenhouse gas effect. The Euro standards protect us from those emissions that impact on humans and cause cancers and respiratory problems, thus we support the introduction of higher standards.”

Schulz points out that the technology required to reach these standards makes vehicles more costly and requires the correct fuel, once again increasing costs. “A balance needs to be reached in the timing of the introduction of Euro standards to allow South Africa, as an emerging economy, to develop at a good rate without high cost pressures.”

As for DAF, its standpoint on the Euro emission debate is the same as most other European original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) operating in South Africa. “We have the technology available, but not the correct fuel to operate efficiently at those levels,” Gavin remarks.

Locally the company has opted for the Euro-3 option. “We currently have two popular models available to the South African market – the CF85.410 and the XF105.460. Both are 6×4 truck tractors and comply with Euro-3 emission standards,” he points out. “They are popular due to the low operating costs, fuel efficiency and compliance with high safety standards demanded by South African freight operators.”

For now, it would seem that cost effectiveness is the major determining factor when it comes to the selection of the Euro emission standards of a vehicle, with
Euro 2 or 3 offering the best bang for your buck in South Africa. This is the case for vehicle maintenance as well.

Schulz explains: “We are finding that more and more of our vehicles are being sold with maintenance contracts, which means customers understand what the cost will be, making it easier to budget and control. We are also seeing an increase in the use of telematics to communicate between the vehicle and the owner, and even the dealer, so problems can be prevented before they become too costly.”

Whether you’re an eco-friendly crusader who can’t wait for 2017, or a believer in more robust vehicles, maintenance will always be an integral part of any transport operation – even if a few tool changes are needed and an update of skills is required. “No matter how advanced vehicles get, if they have mechanical and electronic components, they will have to be serviced and maintained,” concludes Schulz.

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