After watching the YouTube footage, which had been on the television news, of a blazing truck on the Westgate Freeway in Melbourne this week, it made me realise that as the truck industry moves towards its planned zero emissions future, it is going to have to start fighting the public relations war against the naysayers who attack electric trucks and who are rampant on social media.
This problem is especially tough for the truck manufacturers and the trucking industry itself, in that the idea of trucks on our roads is already one which creates community backlash. It also happens that one of Australia’s most anti-truck communities is very close to the site of this week’s truck fire.
There have been ongoing anti-truck protests on the the roads of Yarraville for years, against trucks heading to and from the docks in the middle of the city.
There are a number of problems here and all of them need to be overcome in order for the smooth transition without major problems and major pushback from public opinion. As with all of these issues around public pushback against technology, the key is good information. Good information which is communicated correctly and in a timely manner to the people for whom this may become a problem.
The fact of the matter is, there are going to be more and more battery electric vehicles on our roads and a lot of them are going to be trucks, especially in the cities.
Fires can be caused by damage to the batteries from collisions, but also from mistakes in basic design and maintenance.
The actual cause of the fires is what is described as thermal runaway. It’s a chain reaction which vaporises the electrolyte and pressurises the cell casing, so when the case around the battery begins to fail the flammable and toxic gases within the cells are released.
Now we know that over time, we’re going to get better at making battery electric vehicles. However, we also need to get better at talking to the general public about them, and allay any public fears about the trucks.
The other problem is that once a battery fire starts it’s virtually impossible for the emergency services to put it out. It has to burn out itself, and when it does, it has spectacular results, as can be seen in the video, which was plastered all over the media earlier this week.
This is going to take a concerted effort, to try to avoid these kinds of public relations issues for the trucking industry. People are already frightened of the vehicles which deliver the goods and keep the economic growing.
Heading out on the road with electric trucks is going to be fraught with issues if we don’t get the public perception right. Accidents will happen, but those who don’t like large large heavy vehicles driving their streets will need to be reassured.
The industry as a whole, truck owners, truck manufacturers and everybody else involved in the industry needs to get out there and start educating people and allaying fears, and also working on
improving the technology to minimise the risk of these fires happening.
A couple more fires like the one that happened the other day, especially if they happen around the same time is only going to create hysteria and also stop the investment by companies into electric vehicles, which would inevitably lead to the reduction in sales of electric vehicles and all that implies.