TRUCKS have long been seen as the great polluters on our roads but in the past decade the industry has made big strides in reducing vehicle emissions.
Some manufacturers are even developing zero-emission trucks, while hybrid and compressed natural gas-powered trucks are making their presence felt in the local market.
Unfortunately, two things hamper the acceptance of alternative-fuel trucks: price and infrastructure.
Hybrid trucks can cost as much as $7000 to $10,000 more than a non-hybrid model and that price premium takes some time and effort to recoup.
As for CNG, the infrastructure for refilling stations is so poor it's a wonder anyone bothers.
At last count there were four CNG refuelling stations in Australia: one each in Goulburn, Sydney and Canberra and one in Melbourne owned by a private company, OES CNG, which reportedly plans to open five more retail outlets in Victoria this year.
The two main players in hybrid technology are Japanese manufacturers Mitsubishi Fuso and Hino, the latter a subsidiary of Toyota, the world leader in hybrid-powered passenger cars.
In Australia, Fuso offers both a conventional diesel-powered Canter and a hybrid version it introduced last year.
National parcel carrier Star Track Express has bought 25 hybrid Canters, while rival Hino has delivered 30 of its hybrid trucks to international freight company TNT.
Fuso, however, is stealing a march on its competitors with other alternative-power trucks.
The company's big-selling Canter light-duty truck is available – depending on where in the world you live – with either diesel, hybrid or EEV drive trains.
EEVs, or Enhanced Environmentally Friendly Vehicles, offer emissions standards exceeding current Euro 5 standards.
In short, manufacturers offering EEV have gone the extra distance to make their trucks cleaner than regulatory authorities require.
It is a voluntary standard but is seen as a good marketing tool.
Fuso has added a Canter Euro 5 EEV model to its line-up, although unlike the hybrid Canter, it is not available here.
The company is also developing an electric version of the Canter, called the E-Cell.
It has been shown to the public but it's still some time away from mass production.
The E-Cell is powered by an electric motor using lithium-ion batteries that, when fully charged, give it a range of about 120km – adequate for a day's worth of city deliveries.
Fuso says the electric motor has a power output of 70kW and is speed limited to 80km/h to maximise its range.
In the short term, though, hybrid technology is the most likely route to take for fleets looking to reduce emissions.
Hybrid systems in trucks are no different to those used in passenger cars.
A small electric motor is fitted between the engine and gearbox and lithium-ion batteries are housed separately on the chassis. The electric motor is used during initial take-off and then the diesel engine takes over.
The batteries are kept charged by energy harnessed from the diesel engine.
Manufacturers employing hybrid technology say the life span of the batteries is 10 years or 300,000 kilometres.
A hybrid truck can use 10% to 15% less fuel than a conventional diesel light-duty truck with a corresponding drop in CO2 emissions.
On the conventional-fuel front, Fuso is set to launch its new conventional diesel-powered Canter in Australia in the coming weeks.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.