Introducing VECTO

If the European Commission’s environmental policy team is right, VECTO is about to become the ultimate buzzword in commercial road transport. Short for Vehicle Energy Consumption Calculation Tool, VECTO is at the heart of what could become an EU-wide certification system for CO2 output – with the potential to go global.

While the current Euro VI emissions standard is focusing on the reduction of noxious gases first and foremost, VECTO is meant to complement it by adding a more comprehensive ‘green’ layer to the policy. The resulting system would be able to categorise the EU’s entire vehicle parc and establish the exact CO2 output for every individual commercial vehicle.

While a draft bill is yet to be presented to the Commission, Brussels has acknowledged that all commercial vehicles are different, and that bodywork and vehicle weight, as well as gross combination weight, are fluctuating variables that can change a vehicle’s environmental footprint dramatically.

As such, the EU tasked an Italian-based Joint Research Centre to develop a tool that is able to take these variations into account and certify each vehicle and vehicle combination separately. To ensure scientific accuracy, the Centre collaborated with the Technical University of Graz, Austria, which has been at the forefront of heavy vehicle emissions research for the past decade or so. It also involved environmental organisation Transport & Environment as an independent third party.

In joining resources, the VECTO team quickly realised that the current EU certification system was somewhat short-sighted to fully grasp the environmental impact of a vehicle, as the two existing test cycles would only measure the engine and towing unit’s emissions output.

The new system, however, was meant to look at transport equipment in a more holistic way, so the team quickly started adding new variables and parameters to the existing framework – including combination weight and dimensions, aerodynamic performance and rolling resistance. Also considered were the efficiency of the engine and the appliances around it. Gear ratios and percentage torque loss were also included in the new formula, as well as tyre dimensions and the kind of tyres used. Information on the air-conditioning system, generators and steering pump was also collected, and even the cooling fan had to be incorporated. To simplify the process, the VECTO team differentiated between line-haul and delivery applications during the process.

The resulting data set was then used to create the first incarnation of the VECTO simulation program. To verify the theoretical data collected, however, a whole set of practical tests had to be carried out, too.

Real life testing was recently undertaken at Iveco’s company test track near Turin, with Mercedes-Benz supplying a 40-tonne truck and trailer combination and DAF contributing a 15-tonne CF75 rigid. Prior to each test run, the trucks were also put to work on a dynamometer to ensure the measured data was generated with the correct parameters in place.

After extensive testing, it became obvious that the difference between VECTO’s calculations and the trucks’ real life emissions was marginal only, with a maximum variance of four per cent or less. The result is a software that is said to be remarkably accurate in predicting the CO2 output for any kind of vehicle, with the focus on the vehicle as a whole, and not just engine or driveline.

“What the VECTO team has done was use certified measurements of components and complete vehicle simulations and incorporate them in a new program that would evaluate the data holistically,” DAF told Global Trailer. “In essence, this method is not at all new to the transport equipment industry. When developing new vehicles or advising customers on how to achieve the best possible fuel consumption results, we actually do the same.”

DAF told Global Trailer that VECTO “is going to be the standard for the entire commercial vehicle industry. The system will be fully certified, which means the results are reliable and comparable for the seemingly endless number of truck configurations and areas of use.”

According to the OEM, a key advantage of using the VECTO program over real life testing, apart from mere practicality, is that it rules out weather and traffic conditions, which make the test results “perfectly comparable for fleet owners”.

However, there is still a range of problems that have to be overcome before VECTO will be included into future EU policy – especially on the trailer front. While trucks are highly regulated and therefore sortable, the Commission and its research team are still trying to define what the most common trailer types on European roads look like, with Brussels actively reaching out to OEMs for assistance.

The International Association of the Body and Trailer Building Industry (CLCCR) and Germany’s industry body, VDA, have also been invited to join a task force on the issue. Aerodynamics and weight are especially high on the group’s agenda, with the Commission hoping to include latest technology into its calculations at an early stage.

The goal is to enable VECTO to calculate a trailer’s individual CO2 output per tonne, per kilometre, based on the spec sheet. Once that has been achieved, the Commission has committed to zooming in on speciality equipment and custom trailers. Certification data for that second cohort will be hard to generate, however, given that even common refrigerated trailers are often modified and have additional engines on board that run on CO2 coolant. Even the colour scheme could affect results in this category, experts warn.

EU sources told Global Trailer that the commitment to overcome such hurdles is strong, though, and that leakage of coolant, for example, will become a key criterion for certification. Reportedly, the goal is to finalise the general trailer certification framework between 2020 and 2022, with the refrigerated and waste segments soon to follow.

While the Commission’s first goal is to force the transport equipment industry to focus even more on the development of sustainable trucks and trailers, it is also hoping to enable transport businesses to compare output figures when buying new trucks and trailers using a neutral, fully certified system. The overarching objective, Global Trailer was told, is to allow the industry to clean itself from the inside. As such, the first draft bills are likely to be presented to the Commission before the end of the year, with the first set of legislation – focusing on the heavy end of the market – to be implemented by 2018.

By that time, Brussels may be able to decide when and how to certify trailers individually, too. No information has been leaked as to what will happen with the segment between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes, but experts expect the CO2 certification process to also cover buses and medium-duty vehicles by 2019.

So far, OEMs seem to embrace the concept, with DAF pointing out that VECTO is “the most thorough and comprehensive testing method” its environmental engineering team has ever come across. With the US and Japan already working on similar technology, the Dutch company is confident VECTO will help European OEMs future-proof their portfolios and help bring a new level of transparency to the European heavy vehicle market.

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