UK auto industry calls for clear zero emission HGV plan

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UK auto industry trade body The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on government to work with industry to develop a clear plan to enable the transition to zero emission HGVs before committing to an end-of-sale date for fossil-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, but at present there is no clear technology that can provide full zero emission operations for all weights and uses of HGVs.

zero emission HGV
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According to analysis from the SMMT published in a new report Fuelling the Fleet the commercial, technological and operational barriers currently associated with new technologies such as batteries and hydrogen meant that in 2020, only 0.2 per cent of HGVs were alternatively fuelled. Passenger cars reached this proportion in 2007.

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Battery electric van usage, meanwhile, reached 0.3 per cent 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 per cent of new vans registered between January and July 2021 were battery electric vehicles (BEVs), compared to 8.2 per cent of cars.

Whilst a number of established manufacturers have already brought a range of fossil fuel-free HGVs and vans to market, SMMT is now calling on government to develop a roadmap that will support UK manufacturers and suppliers to accelerate this transition.

One of the biggest barriers to uptake is infrastructure, claims SMMT. In the absence of a dedicated public HGV charging network, the only operators currently able to make the switch are those who can afford to invest in expensive depot infrastructure. The European automotive trade body 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.

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."