HGV operators are facing “massive” barriers to decarbonising their fleets, which could result in a supply chain “horror show”, RHA warned this week.

The association is calling for the government to urgently provide a clear net zero road map which sets out incentives for hauliers to make the transition; gives clear direction on which technology to invest in, to avoid stranded assets; and commits to the rapid roll out of a national  HGV charging infrastructure.

Speaking at the CV Show today (19 April), Rod McKenzie, RHA executive director of communications, set out the challenges facing hauliers in transitioning to a net zero fleet.

He said: “We know that for operators, it’s not quite as simple as going out and buying an electric truck, which can be far beyond their means – especially for small businesses.

“We have recently heard prices in the region of £300,000 to £400,000 pounds. That’s three or four times the going rate of a brand new diesel equivalent.    

“Currently, 98.5% of the UK HGV fleet is diesel, and 89% of UK goods are transported is by road. So the scale of phasing in new, alternatively fuelled HGVs is enormous.

“Operators need help from the government and indeed manufacturers if they are to avoid a horror show,” he warned.

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McKenzie identified a number of key challenges facing hauliers in their journey to net zero. These include the cost of zero emission trucks, which McKenzie said is currently too high, particularly for smaller operators.

Other key challenges include the lack of a national HGV charging infrastructure; a lack of evidence on how these new technologies will perform in real world environments, and uncertainty over which will become the dominant net zero technology - which puts hauliers at risk of investing in what could become stranded assets.

He said: “The current reality is that the high costs associated with zero-emission vehicles, together with the uncertainty from government over how it sees different technologies collectively reducing carbon emissions, act as formidable barriers to investment. No haulier wants to end up with stranded assets.” 

McKenzie called for these challenges to be addressed by the government in a clear net zero road map which sets out how different technologies – battery, hydrogen combustion, hydrogen fuel cell and low-carbon fuels – can deliver the government’s net zero targets, so industry can invest with confidence in these technologies as part of their business planning cycles.

The roadmap should also set out how industry can undertake the financial “heavy lifting” to introduce these technologies, McKenzie said.

He also suggested government consider some flexibility for hauliers on meeting the 2040 ban on the sale of new diesel vehicles.

“This requires an understanding that transport decarbonisation can be achieved through new vehicles being phased-in through natural vehicle replacement cycles,” he explained, adding, “Of course, this might require some tweaking of those target dates.”

McKenzie also called for the roadmap to provide clear direction on the long-term use of diesel and a recognition of the difficulty long distance hauliers face in cutting CO2 emissions.

“Government must not only confirm how these operations are supported but also spell out how resilience is maintained in the event of prolonged power cuts.”

He added: “We see low-carbon fuels such as renewable diesel, appropriately regulated with its carbon emissions offset, having a big role here.”

To this end, he called for a fuel rebate on HVO and CNG, stating: “HVO cuts emissions by 90% and is plug and play – straight into diesel tanks.  But the government needs to send a signal that its backing this as a halfway house." 

He added: "We also believe that investing in green skills and ensuring employers can access funding to target training will help.”

Summing up, Mckenzie set out one final demand. “We need these things now," he said.