Iveco has been at the forefront of promoting gas-powered trucks and it is now offering CNG versions of its new S-WAY models. We took one for a drive and liked it – but questions remain over the infrastructure to fuel it.
Iveco’s new S-WAY range is certainly capturing the imagination of hauliers, but the chances are it could well be the firm’s last diesel heavy truck – certainly for Western Europe. By the time it is due for replacement, diesel engines will inevitably be in the minority and legislation will slowly, but surely kill them off. That won’t happen overnight, but every manufacturer is already looking at alternative fuels. That might be gas, electric or hydrogen.
It is highly likely electric trucks will become the norm in the next decade as the technology improves, and it’s only a matter of time before the Holy Grail of a full day’s range on a light enough set of batteries – which can charge in a relatively quick time – is achieved. But as it is now, electric trucks are far too expensive, too heavy and have inadequate range.
While diesel is not as ‘dirty’ as some perceive it to be, its replacement is long overdue. Today’s Euro 6 lorries emit far less harmful particulates than anything that has gone before and are about 95 per cent cleaner than a Euro 0 truck of the 1990s. Euro 6 engines are also more fuel efficient, and a 44-tonner today can realistically get twice the fuel returns of a truck from the 1970s – and all while carrying 10 tonnes more.
Sure, the fuel is more expensive, but the efficiency gains in the last few decades have been significant. But now is the time that manufacturers are really starting to up their games on alternative fuels, as it is widely recognised diesel has had its day.
A question of range
One alternative fuel is gas: either LNG (liquified natural gas) or CNG (compressed natural gas). Iveco has been a big proponent of promoting gas trucks and it has slowly, but steadily improved its gas offerings for HGVs. Until relatively recently, the best it could do for the heavies was a 4×2 Stralis with a 400 bhp output. This is fine for 38-tonne work, but not really suitable for 44 tonnes. But a couple of years ago, it moved up a gear with its 460 bhp Stralis 6×2 with an LNG option. That finally made trucks viable for 44 tonnes.
On LNG, the range for a 4×2 went up to about 700 miles between fills, and the only issue with a 6×2 was the much-reduced fuel tanks – which limited its range to about 450 miles. For CNG, only available as a 4×2, the range is about 400 miles.
The other biggest issue with gas trucks is supply of the fuel. That might seem an advantage given the petrol and diesel ‘crisis’ of late September 2021, when we had to queue for hour to fill up our tanks due to panic-buying numpties; but the fact remains the network for gas stations is still woefully inadequate and likely to be the biggest factor to put people off buying and running a gas truck.
The gas network is slowly improving, but currently there are just nine stations across the country where trucks can fill up with CNG. However, at least six more are planned to open in 2022. For the right type of operation, they are now a sensible and viable alternative to a diesel truck, but some firms are opting to set up their own filling capabilities and keep their gas trucks on a very tight rein.
This month, we’ve taken a new S-WAY 460NP 4×2 running on CNG out for a day’s drive to see how it performs and to see if it can sway the mind of even the most ardent diesel-head.
From the outside, there’s not a lot to tell you the truck runs on gas, apart from the NP badge. Look on the side, though, and even the most novice of truck drivers and observers will notice the fuel tank is different. Instead of a typical diesel tank, the CNG relies on smaller cylinders hidden behind a panel, which makes the truck look like it has sideskirts. (On LNG trucks, there is one larger cylinder instead of the normal diesel tank.)
A Cursor 13 12.9-litre straight-six engine is housed under a high-roof, twin-bunk sleeper cab. Ivecos’ gas engines are either the Cursor 9 8.7-litre in 340 and 400 bhp outputs, or this bigger engine at 460 bhp.
However, in CNG form the 12.9-litre engine only develops 460 bhp and 2000 Nm of torque – the same as the diesel Cursor 11 at 460 output, so there is a weight penalty to consider there. The overall weight – always very favourable on any Iveco – is still 7875 kg, which for a high-roof 4×2 tractor is impressive.
You can also have the S-WAY with the flat-roof, single-bunk sleeper version of the AS cab. However, the AT or AD smaller, narrow cabs are not an option on tractor units; they are on rigids, but only with the Cursor 9 engine, which you can’t have on a tractor unit. We can’t help thinking an AT-cabbed 4×2 (or even 6×2) tractor might be a winner for Iveco, especially if the smaller midlift axle was available.
The gearbox is Iveco’s Hi-Tronix 12-speed automated, which is easy to use and performs very well. There are parabolic springs on the front and air suspension on the rear.
The cruise control is easy to use and effective; and like all Ivecos, the five-stage engine brake is superb and highly effective.
On the road
The question many operators will ask is if there is any difference in performance of a gas truck over a diesel? In fairness, there isn’t. The 460 bhp engine, while at the lower end of that popular 450-500 bhp bracket favoured by so many hauliers these days, is more than adequate. But sadly, there’s not yet a more powerful option for those who want more guts.
For diesel, Iveco has 480, 510 and now 490 and 530 bhp options, so the choice for CNG is certainly limited. But the reality is 460 bhp is adequate for pretty much every operator at 40-44 tonnes, so it should not be an issue.
Our test S-WAY NP was loaded at close to 40 tonnes and we took it on a circular trip, including a visit to a gas station at Crick where we topped it up – not because the truck especially needed it, but to see the practice in operation. More on that later.
We encountered a mix of motorway, dual-carriageway and twisty single-carriageway roads, and it performed admirably. Of course, it was not as sprightly as the 570 bhp diesel S-WAY we tested in back in the April issue, but it didn’t struggle either – not on the hills, nor in its quest to get up to the speed we wanted depending on the road type. In terms of performance, drivers really won’t notice too much difference. It’s perhaps a bit noisier, but sound insulation inside the cab mitigates this to a large extent.
Pros & cons
As a truck, the gas-powered S-WAY really isn’t much different to the diesel version. It’s the support that’s the biggest factor in making the switch. Should you go gas? Well, like anything, especially something new, there are plenty of pros and plenty of cons.
The pros are it’s better for the environment, there are tax advantages and LEZ charge benefits. The fuel has also traditionally been cheaper to buy, though recent spikes in gas prices may start to erode that advantage.
The cons are the truck itself is more expensive to buy or lease – operators of CNG trucks tell us they are “typically about £30,000” more expensive than a diesel equivalent. With that in mind, you only start to make that money back on year three or four. So, you need to do your sums. It needs to be used on the right operation as well – and double-shifting the vehicle is most definitely a winner.
The biggest question concerns the infrastructure, which will probably be the most significant factor for people considering making the switch. If there are no gas stations near your yard, then it could be a non-starter. But if there are one or two on your routes, it’s less of a hassle. If you can fuel at your yard, then of course it’s much easier.
This is where gas trucks currently come into their on – on ‘repeat itinerary’ regular runs, on dedicated contracts where there’s the scope to fill up regularly. The biggest worry for any gas truck driver is running out of fuel, and a closed gas station can be a nightmare if you regularly use it. As mentioned, there are only nine gas stations in the UK at the moment, so it’s all about planning.
As a truck, the S-WAY NP is lovely. It’s nice to drive and the cab is well-appointed, though it’s not as good as some of the recent cabs that have come to market from competitors in the last couple of years.
The S-Way is a stunning truck and lends itself to superb liveries – if image is important, S-WAY has it by the bucketload. Back-up remains less extensive with Ivecos overall, but it doesn’t have too much competition on the gas market, especially in the top-weight sleeper-cabbed tractor market. The brand is typically cheaper than other marques too.
The biggest question is whether a gas truck is suitable for your operation. If it is, then as a product, there’s not a lot on which to fault the S-WAY NP.
Operators also need to think about how best to acquire the vehicle. Given technology is moving fast both in gas and other alternative fuels, leasing might be a good option as you’ll need to run the truck for at least four years; and at the end of that period, what else will be on the market? More importantly, will there be a market for secondhand gas trucks if they become outdated or are simply not a match for new products? It’s all worth thinking about.
If you want a gas truck and you have access to gas fuel nearby, the S-WAY is close to top of the pile. For ringfenced, repeat work on a set route and job, it’s hard to beat.
- Green credentials
- Great to drive
- Superb image
- Cost effective
- Great cab
We don’t like
- Limited in the jobs it can do
- Limited infrastructure