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net zero

SMMT calls for vehicle decarbonisation plans before government bans

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The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on government to work with industry to develop a plan that facilitates the transition to zero emission HGVs, before it commits an end of sale date for conventionally fuelled trucks.

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.

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. With new technology comes new opportunities and the UK, as a manufacturer, of vans, trucks and other HGVs must accelerate the transition to fossil fuel free commercial vehicles and their component parts.

To achieve this, the SMMT says the 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.

Specifically, it says the UK needs a dedicated public HGV charging network, as only operators who can afford to invest in expensive depot infrastructure and operate on a back to base model can currently make the switch. This network needs to be rolled out urgently – ACEA forecasts that by 2030, the UK will need 8,200 public HGV charging points, 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.

Decarbonising the commercial vehicle sector will therefore need more support from government and other stakeholders outside the automotive industry. New technologies need new skills, so the workforce that maintains these essential vehicles must have access and support for the training courses essential to high voltage and other system work. Above all, the industry needs a stable, long-term regulatory and fiscal strategy to deliver a vibrant zero emission HGV market so that manufacturers and operators can confidently plan and prepare for the future.

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.”

5.3% of fleet vehicles are Euro 4 or older – Research

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5.3% of company cars and vans being operated by customers of FleetCheck only meet the Euro 4 emissions standard or older.

That’s according to new analysis by FleetCheck, which says further 18.2% of vehicles from the total sample of 85,792 also fall behind the latest Euro 6 legislation by only achieving Euro 5.

Peter Golding, Managing Director at FleetCheck, said: “We compiled these figures to illustrate the disparity that currently exists across fleets when it comes to emissions. While at one extreme, some are actively working to achieve zero emissions, at the other, we can see that almost a quarter of all the vehicles our customers operate are Euro 5 or older.

“Because there is a strong SME bias in our customer base and these businesses tend to hang on to cars and vans for longer than corporates, they are probably worse than the fleet parc as a whole. However, they remain an indication of how far the industry will have to travel to achieve the kind of low or zero emissions performance we’d all like to see.”

Golding added that most of the oldest and most polluting vehicles in the analysis appeared to be diesel vans, many of which were operated on a spare or pool vehicle basis.

“It is not uncommon for smaller businesses to continue to operate vans until they become uneconomic to repair or too unreliable for everyday use. Even some of the latter will be kept in the yard as a spare van and used occasionally. However, there is a strong argument that these vehicles shouldn’t be on the road at all, given their poor emissions.”

Over the next few years, he added, there was a strong possibility that the introduction of Clean Air Zones would start to see more of these vehicles disappear from fleets.

“While CAZs have arguably got off to a slow start, it seems likely that at least some will ultimately move to the ULEZ model and operate a Euro 6 minimum for diesel vehicles,” said Golding. “This is one of the factors that will start to see some of these older vans start to disappear.

“However, well ahead of that point, more could be done to persuade fleets to stop operating these vehicles. That might mean disincentives using measures such as Vehicle Excise Duty or it could mean incentives such as wider use of scrappage schemes.

“On a simpler level, the economics behind the ongoing operation of these older vans are often highly questionable, and getting this message across to businesses is also something that we perhaps should be communicating more widely as an industry.”