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The government must not put a date on banning diesel trucks until it has developed a clear plan to help manufacturers and operators make the transition to zero emission HGVs, SMMT warned this week.

The call comes after the publication of SMMT’s latest report: Fuelling the Fleet: Delivering Commercial Vehicle Decarbonisation.

The report points out that whilst 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, there is no clear technology that can provide full zero emission operations for all weights and uses of HGVs.

It also highlights the slow pace of the transition to alternatively fuelled commercial vehicles, revealing that in 2020, only 0.2% of HGVs were alternatively fuelled, whilst battery electric vans made up just 0.3% of the UK van fleet in 2020. Despite uptake rates for electric vans growing rapidly, just 2.6% of new vans registered between January and July 2021 were battery electric vehicles (BEVs), compared to 8.2% of cars, according to the report.

The report calls on the UK market, as a manufacturer of vans and trucks, to accelerate the transition to fossil fuel free commercial vehicles but also urges the government to develop a roadmap that supports UK manufacturers and the supply chain in that transition.

One of the biggest barriers to uptake is the lack of infrastructure, SMMT found. It states: “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.”

The report also calls for training to develop the new skills needed for high voltage and other alternative fuelling systems and “a stable, long-term regulatory and fiscal strategy” so manufacturers and operators can plan and prepare for the future with confidence.

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.”