Tim Camilleri: Prime mover in new truck tech
Tim is speaking at iMOVE Conference 2022, taking place in Sydney on 14 and 15 November 2022. He is on the session How new decarbonisation technologies are impacting operations and commercial vehicle configurations session, on day 1 of the conference. His talk is entitled Volvo Electric Trucks: Here and now in Australia.
Tim Camilleri is the e-Mobility Solutions Manager at Volvo Group Australia. Under his remit is to manage the implementation of emerging technology solutions for transport buyers and end users. That’s any electrical- or hydrogen-powered trucks, or autonomous vehicles, with a view to implement them and have a seamless integration of those vehicles into Australia and on to its roads.
As an overview of your role Tim, what does it involve?
A whole lot of stakeholder management, whether it’s internal, or externally with customers. A combination of government engagement and industry engagement. along with a healthy dose of customer facing discussion.
And to put you on the spot with your mention of all of these alternative fuel trucks, when are we going to see them on Australian roads?
Well, on the electric-powered trucks side of things, we’ve had the first two here in Australia for almost two years. We have a large volume of them coming in, or are in various stages of being in Australia or about to be. We are also launching our heavy duty battery electric range next year as well, these will be the first commercially available heavy electric trucks on the Australian market.
We will have hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the future, however the timeline for that is much longer with customer trials in Europe not starting until 2025. So locally I’ll just say second half of this decade. I hope it’s early second-half of this decade, but we’ll see how that goes in terms of the projects and delivering that commercial product. I think it’s also important to clarify in this instance that we are talking fuel cell EV not using hydrogen as an internal combustion fuel.
And autonomous trucks will be, I’d say, scattered somewhere in between those two timewise. I can see off-road trials taking place in the next year or two or three. But on-road trials, I think as many people in the autonomous space in Australia appreciate, the regulations around true autonomous vehicles on roads will take some time.
The complexity and unpredictable nature of on-road autonomy has slowed development in this area a little. In fact, I would rather use the word augmentation in an on-road scenario as while I anticipate that on-road vehicles will largely have the capacity to drive themselves in the near future I don’t see them being driverless for a very long time.
And just to go back to the topic of hydrogen trucks, is it the complexity of those vehicles, is it the cost, or is it putting the fuelling infrastructure in place? What is it for you that sees you push that date back to late this decade?
The infrastructure is an interesting one and I think the infrastructure, depending on how people play it, could align well with Volvo Australia’s timeframes and vehicles. But it’s the complexity of the hydrogen fuel cell as a commercially viable propulsion alternative that remains to be completely mapped out.
As a group we are very conservative when it comes to exposing the market to a technology, but when it proven we bring things to market very quickly, I think our current BEV offering is a good example of that. When it arrives it will be a full production model. Not a prototype, and not a concept.
When we look to bring these products into the market, there’ll be production-ready and supported throughout the network. But hydrogen-powered vehicles are a complex beast. The majority of hydrogen vehicles currently on the Australian roads are two-ton vehicles with 130-kilowatt fuel cell doing 10,000, 15,000 kilometres a year.
A hydrogen truck is a different beast. It can be around 70 to 80 tons, two trailers doing hundreds of thousands of kilometres a year. So different scale of size and how often they’re used. So a magnitude of order of complexity and reliability.
There was a media release this week about some work at the University of New South Wales retrofitting diesel vehicles to run on 90% hydrogen. Is this something Volvo might look at?
We have no plans to retrofit older vehicles They’ll be off the factory floor as they’re built, designed and engineered, front-to-back a Volvo. Fuel aside, we want to make sure that the vehicles we put on public roads are fitted with a full suite of up-to-date active safety features, keeping older vehicles on the roads goes against that.
In terms of hydrogen injection into an internal combustion engine, for us, let’s say we are reviewing it but it’s going to be limited to just new builds. There would not be an aftermarket or Volvo-supported retrofit product.
Now let’s go back before Volvo. What’s your career path been to date?
I like to say that I’m recovering traffic engineer, haven’t done traffic engineering for some time. I started out in both private and public government world, then moved into IT project management at the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, (TMR) and into the CAVI project at TMR (and CAVI is of course something iMOVE is involved in too. See: Ipswich Connected Vehicle Pilot: Final reports, Autonomous vehicles and Australian roads: Are they ready for each other?)
So I started to touch on autonomous vehicles and from there moved to Aurecon as its Smart Mobility Lead for Australasia, later looking at advising and consulting, mostly to governments, but also larger companies in the area of implementation of transport technology into their businesses, or their policies or strategies that mostly involved around Mobility as a Service, autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, and the like.
You’ve certainly worked in a variety of interesting parts of the emerging transport trends and tech worlds, Tim!
Yes, although it didn’t seem like it at the time upon reflection it’s well-balanced. I feel exposure to both public and private and a solid basis of true engineering through to futuristic advisory roles, doing master plans for 2050 and things like that. But it really helps to understand the mix of, especially in the emerging technology space, what’s necessary to implement change.
Yes, it really has provided you a deep appreciation of just how wide and connected are the many moving parts exist in transport?
Definitely. I think transport touches everything. It’s not just about the physical wheels moving or the endpoints. It’s about making the ecosystem and system work overall. And there’s many points and ways of optimising it and whether it’s through technology, new ways of building roads, or where I find myself now working with new vehicles at Volvo Group. Transport impacts almost every second of life and how we live. So, it’s a far-reaching and highly important area.
You said you were a recovering traffic engineer. Was that your entry into transport, was that your area of study?
Yes, I studied civil engineering specialising in traffic, and I ended up getting chartered as a traffic engineer. I say I’m recovering because I try and not always think like an engineer and the way I was traditionally taught. I think throughout my career so far, it’s been a whole lot more of user-centric design and thinking about outcomes rather than implementing known ways as well.
So the engineering analysis and way of thinking and problem solving is a very strong point, but I think that the flexibility of thinking beyond that helps as well in terms of new lessons learned for me anyway.
Where did you earn your degree, Tim?
The University of Queensland. I was born in Mackay and moved to Brisbane to go to UQ studying civil engineering and have stayed in Brisbane ever since.
Let’s leave the real world just for a moment and go to a hypothetical world. Because of where you are, let’s call you the Emperor of Queensland. You’ve got unlimited power, unlimited budget, and access to unlimited manpower. You can attack a traffic problem or a transport problem. What would you go at?
Oh, I probably should say developing a network of zero emissions vehicles or freight and logistic vehicles for Volvo Group and putting that forward. But I think that would be really nice and that would be really fun to do and I think would deliver great benefits and accelerate this whole space going forward.
But to enable that to happen and assist in it growing itself in a measure way, it would be more so going back to data and information implementation, maybe looking at, I don’t know, a glorified version of Mobility as a Service system. Having interoperability between data to enable us to actually plug and play available solutions that makes it truly interoperable and work together, making people’s lives easier in terms of their consumption of transport.
And as the Emperor of Queensland, how would you go about getting over the problem of siloed data?
I guess I could overcome this by having anyone who stands in my way imprisoned! However I’d be a merciful and wise ruler for the most part!
In general I think we struggle to really understand data as a commodity or as a tool. We know its worth something and we even try and put a dollar value on it, which makes us loathe to share it. However even at a vehicle level we have access to more data than we know what to do with. It’s worthless unless we use it.
Well, you’re the Emperor, in this scenario, you could strongarm everyone!
I know, I know, I didn’t put my hat on as Emperor! But so far I haven’t seen it enacted in the real world but as Emperor ground-up construction, I’d be really making sure we have a strong stakeholder engagement between the many different parties, trying to remove the conceptions of the past and pre-conceived notions of where people fit, truly working together for an overall outcome and giving people time and space and dedication to commit to deliver it.
A lot of the time when these projects go ahead, it’s 10% of someone’s job. It’s not a full commitment, but I think making sure we actually gave a commitment to it and express what the potential outcomes and economic benefits or benefits overall were. We could probably get a huge amount of buy-in to people delivering something like this. We’d have a platform to play with in the future.
Do you think this is an issue of the fact that if you could show everyone how they would benefit from data sharing and really opening their ears to the discussion, do you think it would be an easier sell? Is closed ears a problem or is it fear, be it fear of sharing proprietary knowledge or of loss of market share or whatever fears there might be?
I don’t think it’s closed ears. A lot of the time people are willing to listen to it, willing to understand what the potential is. I guess it’s about the way in which they can consume information, they’re given the right information and they’re given that space to actually deliver on it.
It’s not just an hour-long seminar that they learn from and walk away from, but there’s that dedication to actually delivering something and it’s cross-jurisdictional. Whether it’s at a national, state or local level. And a lot of the private companies are trying to do it themselves, but in the end they probably should be consumers of something like that.
I think there’s a willingness there, there are understandings of what the benefits could be, but it’s just not a priority or a commitment because it is such a large task upfront for long-term benefit.
Part two of the hypothetical, but in this scenario you’ve been downgraded to Lord Mayor of Brisbane, so your budget’s down, your power’s down and you’re answerable to rate payers. You’ve got a small amount of budget and power in which to fix an issue, a transport issue. What would you look at for Brisbane?
I wouldn’t say no to being Mayor of Brisbane. Lord Mayor of Brisbane’s not really a downgrade. It sounds like a pretty good job, but …
Downgraded from Emperor though …
Yes, that’s true! On a Brisbane level with a limited budget, I think truly setting up Brisbane to be a place to play its part and deliver on its transport strategies that, to be fair, Brisbane has good high-level strategies in place and it’s just about enacting on those and delivering them. In my mind, I think the space they’re moving in on when it comes to electric vehicles, in public transport, is good.
They’re definitely set up well in some of their networking side of things, but it’s about pushing forward in a lot of little projects in a sustainable way. I think if you’re given limited power and budget as the Lord Mayor, and I say limited in quotations, I think the path that is set, the strategy is set already in Brisbane is good. It’s just about making sure the implementation happens in those spaces.
It’s interesting, it possibly might be that your background has placed you in a variety of transport areas, but you didn’t stick to the area of freight, or heavy transport, in either of those two hypothetical scenarios.
I started with that with the unlimited budget. Oh look, freight can get enabled in different ways I think overall. So even as Emperor with my unlimited budget and a data system that works as plug and play it becomes easier overall, you can program it and plan it easier, whether that’s pre-planning or during operation. And then in terms of delivering on Brisbane’s strategy promises, even with a limited budget, freight plays a pretty decent part in those strategies as it is. So we benefit highly.
So, and I think using my lens of the state of play for freight, I see it as on a pretty good journey overall. The data integration we have, and I’ll talk about the Volvo Group side of things, and the ability we have to gain data about what vehicles are doing, the technology that’s available and growing. Is it a good place for the time and day, probably more advanced than we’re ready for as Australians.
In order to set up for the future. I don’t think it needs too many barriers brought down. Regulations I guess is one side of things, but I would call that a project that’s a transition that just has to happen. It’s not money, it’s not anything, it’s just an understanding of what’s necessary to bring these new vehicles into market.
Excuse my ignorance on this, but is Volvo doing much in the area of last mile delivery?
No … well it depends on what you call last mile, to be fair. We don’t do say a four-and-a half-ton truck that you see used in deliveries to your home from Woolworths or Coles. Volvo starts at a 16-ton truck, a medium-sized rigid vehicle rather a small-sized rigid vehicle. That’s where Volvo starts in its current diesel vehicle line-up and the currently available electric vehicles.
Again, touching on the fact that you’ve worked in a variety of areas and roles, of your career to date, what project or piece of work is it that you’re most proud of?
I’d actually say the work I’m doing now, to tell the absolute truth. It’s the most interesting, it’s the quickest developing, and it has the potential to deliver efficiencies in Australia in general. And I use efficiencies as an all-encapsulating word overall, what we can see in this space, especially with those smaller rigid vehicles, metro delivery, electric prime movers, what they can do and how they can change this industry or add to it.
So yes, it is most exciting project I’ve done, even looking back at delivering autonomous vehicles and Mobility as a Service strategies for large-scale governments or master planning in South-East Asia. Yes, the here and now is the most fun for me. Most enjoyable and rewarding too.
This might be a tricky question to ask you, that again touches on the fact that you’ve done quite a lot of things, is there an area in which you haven’t worked in transport yet that you would like to?
That I find very hard to answer, because I’ve never really predicted what the next thing I worked on would be. It’s all progressed from one thing to the next. Not foreseen by me I think somewhat, I’m always looking to do something new in an emerging area, or emerging technology, but I can’t see what the next thing is.
As I said earlier, I my current role is the most enjoyable one I’ve done so far. I’d like to play around with this one for a fair amount of time and be in this space. I think electric vehicles would be a continuation for a long time or zero emission vehicles. Hopefully it’s still in the trucking space for a few number of years. But at the moment I don’t see what the next path might be.
Fair enough. A good political answer! Last question, in the next three to five years, what is it in terms of the tech or the vehicles or the transport ecosystem, what is it you are most excited about?
If I can go to five years … in five years’ time I would be very excited to be driving in Australia in a hydrogen truck up and down the coast. Or even an electric prime mover for that matter!
I’m really looking forward to seeing where the technology goes. Perhaps sitting behind the wheel of a large, zero emissions vehicle in Australia. Delivering on what I’m doing now day in, day out would be a very exciting path for me.
And it probably sounds like it’s the political answer, but truly I think all the hard work we see as being put in now as an industry, not just from Volvo Group, the hard work being put in as an industry, seeing that result in five years’ time, where these aren’t a smaller or medium size rigid vehicle, they’re a true prime mover, doing the job that existing diesel prime move trucks do, that would put a very big smile on my face!