Government should urgently reform its outdated Plug-in Truck Grant to reflect the progress made in developing new zero emission truck technology and to help cut CO2 by 18.8 million tonnes a year, according to a report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

The call is made in SMMT’s latest position paper, dubbed The Road Ahead: Delivering a More Rapid HGV Zero Emission Transition, published this week.

The paper argues that the Plug-In Truck Grant, which was launched eight years ago is outdated. The grant seeks to help operators switch from conventionally fuelled HGVs to zero emission alternatives. However, models can only be eligible after undertaking an approval process that takes around two years.

As a result, the position paper points out, despite there being 27 models of zero emission trucks available to UK operators with many more to come, only 10 ZEV truck models on the market today are currently eligible for grants.

This year has seen a record number of new zero emission trucks registered, yet there are still just 327 vehicles in operation (0.05% of the UK’s HGV fleet) – meaning drivers are more likely to encounter a pink van (564 on the road) than a plug-in truck.

SMMT notes that given hauliers’ tight margins, the higher costs of zero emission trucks, and the additional expense of installing depot charging or refuelling facilities - which bring additional hurdles in terms of grid connectivity and local planning constraints - government grants are essential to enable operators to make the transition.

The paper calls for fleets to be granted a ‘next generation’ incentive scheme which makes it much easier for new zero emission trucks to qualify, plus a dedicated national infrastructure plan.

It also warns that, given truck decarbonisation is essential to the UK’s 2035 net zero targets, and with the end of sale of new non-zero emission HGVs weighing less than 26 tonnes coming at the same time as the car and van sectors, urgent action is needed to create the right conditions to allow hauliers to plan their net zero investments.

The report recommends a nationally consistent, locally delivered plan for charging infrastructure, the provision of genuinely compelling incentives for vehicle purchases, as well as support for depot investment.

It also wants to see a national plan to reform planning laws to speed up grid connectivity at depot sites, and the ramping up of the provision of an  HGV-dedicated public charging infrastructure to make the transition fair and accessible for all operators.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “2023 was the best year ever for zero emission truck uptake but they remain a tiny fraction of the UK’s fleet. With an end of sale date of some fossil fuel HGVs starting in less than 11 years’ time – the same as cars and vans – urgent action is required.

”Operators facing higher capital expenditure, a paucity of dedicated charging infrastructure, planning constraints and grid delays to depot upgrades, need a next generation incentive and infrastructure strategy and planning reform if they are to invest in the greener future the country needs.

”Doing so would not just cut carbon and improve air quality, it would put the UK at the forefront of global road transport decarbonisation.”