Freight operators must keep pace with emerging technology to remain competitive, according to the newly appointed ultra-low-emission vehicle lead at Innovate UK.

Speaking to, Venn Chesterton said the growing number of competing demands on the freight sector – such as CO2 reduction, air quality regulations and on-demand deliveries – mean operators need to innovate to remain viable.

“You simply cannot be the operator you were a few years ago and survive in this market,” he added. “Operators are now looking for things to help differentiate themselves from their competitors.”

Chesterton was appointed to Innovate UK – the government’s innovation agency - in October to help support the UK automotive industry’s transition towards ultra-low-emission vehicles.

“There are so many drivers out there pushing people towards an ultra low-emission vehicle,” he said.

“Whether it’s cities or countries putting in plans to ban the sale of diesel vehicles, or to charge significant amounts to enter a city, it's all coming forward.”

Ultra-low-emission passenger cars have already started to see market penetration, and Chesterton believes a similar pattern is now emerging for the freight industry.

“The technology is rising and is finding its way into the freight sector,” he said.

“There are some real, genuine alternatives to the ICE available right now, as well as a lot of R&D happening from a technology point of view: for example, batteries have become more energy dense and gas engines are able to run at a higher torque.”

However, such technology is more challenging to develop for the freight sector due to the complex specification of many commercial vehicles designed for specific job functions.

Chesterton will be talking about the UK’s leading automotive R&D work at Freight in the City Expo on 7 November in London, a conference and exhibition dedicated to sustainable urban deliveries (pictured).

He said: “Over the past three years, Freight in the City Expo has really established itself as an important event for the industry.

“Operators want to differentiate  themselves from their competitors and events like this give people the opportunity to keep pace with industry.”