Frank Thorpe, UK MD of Chinese electric vehicle manufacturing giant BYD, has claimed a new government pledge of £200m to help decarbonise UK road freight is not enough to trigger a major transition towards alternatively-fuelled HGVs.

News of the investment came during logistics conference ITT Hub at Farnborough International where transport minister Trudy Harrison announced plans for a three-year comparative programme with initial competitions for battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology launching shortly.

The trials could see hundreds more zero-emission HGVs rolled out and save the industry money, thanks to overall running costs of green vehicles being cheaper than petrol and diesel equivalents, Harrison said.

The announcement expands the DfT’s £20m zero emission road freight trials, delivered by Innovate UK, which ran last year.

However, Thorpe said the new investment was nowhere near enough to accelerate a switch to zero carbon vehicles among hauliers. “Two hundred million sounds a big number, but it’s not – it’s nothing," he said. "There needs to be three noughts on the end of that figure to make a difference. That’s the problem, and until someone understands that, the dial won’t move.

"With the bus sector, which is subsidised, there’s a an incentive at 22p per km which is hugely significant. There’s a profit to be made in the subsidy. Unless you do something like that for the heavy goods industry people will make a token gesture but do no more than that."

Thorpe went on to estimate that the average tractor unit costs around £120,000, but an electric one is "probably double that".

“It’s a big, difficult problem to solve," he said. "We need either government subsidies or mandates through legislation but something needs to be done.

“The heavy goods transport sector is falling behind. We need market forces in place to allow operators to start making the transition. But time is running out and we need to get on with it.”

Also included in Harrison's announcement was a repeat of the government's pledge, made at COP26 last year, that all new HGVs sold in the UK will be zero emission from 2040.

The DfT has also published the full response to a public consultation on phase-out dates for the sale of new, non-zero emission HGVs.

Further to this, it said it would fulfil its commitment to consult with industry to identify potential exemptions to the 2035 phase-out date for HGVs weighing 26 tonnes and under, which may need longer to transition to zero emission technologies. The call for evidence opened today (12 May) and will last until 22 July 2022.

Also responding to today's news, Michelle Gardner, acting deputy director – public policy, Logistics UK, said: "Logistics businesses are committed to decarbonising their operations, but to ensure a smooth transition they need clarity on the path to zero tailpipe emission HGVs. The trials announced today will play a crucial role in identifying the right technological solutions to help enable this.

"Given the breadth of the vehicles used across the logistics sector and scale of innovation required to reach net zero Logistics UK is also pleased that government has launched a consultation to identify potential exemptions to the 2035 phase out date."