Commercial vehicle industry calls for decarbonisation plans before bans

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on Government to help develop a plan that facilitates the transition to zero emission HGVs.

The SMMT wants Government to work with the commercial vehicle industry to develop a zero emission alternative for HGVs before it commits to an end of sale date for conventionally fuelled trucks, similar to the ban of ICE vehicle sales by 2023.

According to the industry body, all of Europe’s major truck manufacturers have agreed that new HGVs will be fossil fuel-free by 2040, and are investing billions in new powertrains to replace diesel, the most commonly used HGV fuel. However, at present there is no clear technology that can provide full zero emission operations for all weights and uses of HGVs.

The need to support powertrain research and infrastructure development has been underlined by a new report: Fuelling the Fleet: Delivering Commercial Vehicle Decarbonisation. SMMT analysis has revealed that the commercial, technological and operational barriers currently associated with new technologies such as batteries and hydrogen meant that in 2020, only 0.2% of HGVs were alternatively fuelled – contrasted with cars, which reached this proportion in 2007.

Battery electric van usage, meanwhile, reached 0.3% in 2020 – the same proportion as cars in 2019. Uptake rates for electric vans have continued to grow rapidly, reflecting how battery power can effectively replace fossil fuels in this vehicle class, but just 2.6% of new vans registered between January and July 2021 were battery electric vehicles (BEVs), compared to 8.2% of cars.

The report adds that established manufacturers have already brought a range of fossil fuel-free HGVs and vans to market, while several new players have also entered the market with dedicated zero emission commercial vehicle portfolios.

In the report, it states: “With new technology comes new opportunities for the UK to develop and manufacture fossil fuel free commercial vehicles (CVs) and their component parts.” It adds that in order to achieve this, Government should develop a roadmap that supports UK manufacturers and the supply chain, creating a strong domestic market and helping companies seize the opportunities that emerge.

It also calls for the “urgent” rollout of a dedicated public HGV charging network, with forecasts predicting the need for 8,200 public HGV charging points in the UK, equivalent to more than two new charge points opening every single day until the end of the decade. Alternative technological solutions, such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, face an even tougher challenge with only 11 refuelling locations across the country.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The industry is committed to be fossil fuel-free, but there is not yet a clear technology path for every weight class and every use case. Before it sets a deadline for the sector, the Government must support the technological development and market proposition and provide the right framework, so hauliers don’t defer their decarbonising decision to the last minute. Plans before bans is the key.

“Vans face fewer obstacles in this decarbonisation journey than HGVs but adoption rates remain low, driven by the lack of charging points and higher operating costs relative to diesel. The new models are there, with many more coming, but without investment in incentives and infrastructure, the commercial vehicle sector will struggle to meet our shared ambition to reach net zero.”

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