The number of vans on the UKs roads has skyrocketed, with a million more added in less than ten years, despite industry and government efforts to increase the take-up of electric vans.

Most of the one million vans added between 2014 and 2023 have been diesel powered and since 1990 carbon emissions from vans has gone up 62%. In contrast, carbon emissions from private cars and taxis have decreased by 19% over the same period.

The findings come from a study by Transport & Environment, the clean transport and energy advocacy group.

It also found that, despite the number of electric battery vans in the UK increasing more than sevenfold between 2018 and 2023, the adoption rate still lags behind countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The Climate Change Committee has specifically noted that progress is not going quickly enough on vans with slower electric van uptake and rising average CO2 emissions from new vans being highlighted as a concern.

To combat this trend, the UK’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, set in January 2024, requires 10% of van sales to be zero-emission by 2024, rising to 70% by 2030.

The report states: ”Ideally we would see progress within the fleets owned by companies and that could really drive a transformation across the sector. Corporate fleets own 58% of all the vans in the UK and yet they drive 76% of the van mileage, which means they have a responsibility to make those miles as green as possible.”

The report welcomed the sevenfold increase in van sales over the past five years. It said: ”That growth is significant, and is expected to continue and go even faster as the new ZEV mandate rules, which require van makers to sell more zero emission vans, kicks in and gets the transition really rolling - even though we may not see real, rapid change until the flexibilities built into the policy cease.

”In fact the ZEV mandate should push the UK ahead of other European countries that have overtaken us in electric van uptake over the last few years.”

The report recommends a number of measures to help the transition to zero-emission vans across the UK. Those include: 

  • Clean air measures like congestion charge and ultra low emission zones would encourage a shift away from dirty diesel vans in busy, urban areas.
  • Scrappage schemes for old diesel vans as well as extending grants for plug-in vans for small businesses would help with that initial cost barrier.
  • A clear plan for charging infrastructure to support both vans and HGVs as part of an electrified road freight system.
  • Exploring setting up zero-emission logistics zones to speed up the shift to electric delivery vans and cargo bikes in urban areas.