SMMT calls for support to electrify UK’s commercial vehicles

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on the government to work with the industry on a realistic plan to facilitate the transition to zero-emission heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) before announcing a deadline to ban new combustion-fuelled vehicles. 

According to the SMMT, support from the government is needed to provide a charging and refuelling infrastructure that can handle commercial vehicle demands. The SMMT is also calling on the government to help train (or retrain) technicians to maintain zero-emission vehicles. 

The government is looking to propose a 2040 deadline for the end of sale for traditionally fuelled commercial vehicles. European HGV manufacturers have agreed to produce fossil fuel-free vehicles by 2040, but these vehicles need a public network of charging and refuelling points to support the switch to zero emissions vehicles. 

Currently just 0.2% of HGVs are alternatively fuelled; cars attained the same proportion in 2007. Electric vans are proving to be more popular than electric HGVs with 2.6% of new vans being electric. However this still falls behind new electric cars, which have an 8.2% share of the market. 

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) estimates some 8200 HGV charging points are required to facilitate a network of zero-emission HGVs. To achieve this goal by 2030, two new charging points would need to be installed every day. 

Hydrogen has long been cited as the more appropriate fuel for different weight classes of commercial vehicles but with only 11 refueling stations currently operating in the UK, installing the infrastructure for hydrogen fuelled vehicles is a larger undertaking.  

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SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes, 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.”

In order to make the move to a zero-emission fleet without public infrastructure, companies who can afford to do so are installing their own charging stations at their depots. While this is a good solution for short, back-to-base style fleets, this is hard to implement on a wider scale. 

Speaking at an industry forum at the Commercial Vehicle Show, Hawes added: “The ‘first mover’ disadvantage is something that is bedevilling the entire transition to decarbonised transport. Some way of sharing set-up costs is needed, so the first operator in an area doesn’t end up paying 100 percent of the cost to set up.

“The government is alert to the issue and we [at SMMT] are working with energy providers and the distribution network through the Automotive Council to try and identify where the barriers are towards the roll out of infrastructure,” added Hawes. 


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