The UK government has published its “revolutionary” 'Transport decarbonisation plan' that includes a consultation on banning the sale of “non-zero emissions HGVs” under 26 tonnes by 2035 and the sale of all fossil-fuelled HGVs by 2040.

Announcing the plan, transport secretary Grant Shapps MP said: “Transport is the largest contributor to UK greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), with road transport alone accounting for almost a quarter of our total emissions in 2019. We must deliver a step change in the breadth and scale of our ambition to reduce transport’s GHG emissions to reach net zero.

“As a major step towards that, alongside the plan we have published a consultation on phasing out the sale of all new non-zero emission heavy goods vehicles by 2040, demonstrating our commitment to tackle the second largest source of domestic transport carbon emissions and furthering our ambition to decarbonise UK roads.”

Quoted in the government launch statement, Elizabeth de Jong, director of policy at Logistics UK, said: “The transport decarbonisation plan will help to provide logistics businesses with confidence and clarity on the steps they must take on the pathway to net zero. Consultation on proposed phase out dates for new diesel HGVs should enable business to move forwards with confidence. Rail, shipping and aviation are all essential parts of logistics, so plans to support freight modal shift and develop technologies to reduce emissions across these modes are welcome.

“With logistics already embracing the need to decarbonise its operations, Logistics UK looks forward to working in partnership with the government on future action and strategies to realise the net zero ambition together.”

But the RHA criticised the plan for setting unrealistic goals when the technology for carbon-free long distance heavy trucks was not available.

The association supports the vision for net-zero road transport but says the plan is “speculative” and lacking detail.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “This proposal as it stands is unrealistic. These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist – we don’t know when they will and what they will cost.

“It’s also not clear what any transition will look like – this is blue skies aspiration. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries. The problem is even worse for coaches, which are more expensive to buy and have longer lifecycles.

“We support investment in vehicles to deliver net zero, but it requires coherent, affordable and inclusive market-driven policies. Decarbonisation policies must support a thriving commercial vehicle sector to ensure the UK has a vibrant economy supporting people and businesses.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning Schapps said Logistics UK represented more operators than the RHA, something Burnett disputed.

“It is misleading to say Logistics UK is bigger than the RHA,” he told MT. “Our members operate 250,000 trucks so he is misguided and that was a cheap shot.”

Sandy Parsonage, director of supply chain and logistics for Sainsbury’s, said in the government launch statement: "We welcome the government’s ambition and look forward to engaging with the consultation. We are already working across our supply chain to explore alternative fuels and develop a zero carbon fleet of the future. At the same time, we’re investing to reduce the emissions across our current fleet. This ambition will accelerate efforts to develop the technologies the UK needs to achieve net zero."

Andy Eastlake, chief executive of the Zemo Partnership, said: “There’s an imperative, of course, that as a community we achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and virtually every sector of our economy is facing tough challenges.

“Decarbonising all new HGVs sold from 2040 is undoubtedly ambitious, but we’re at a point now when almost every OEM is selling battery electric trucks in some sizes and applications and most have declared strategies to deliver fossil free product by 2040.

“So, I genuinely feel that the appetite is there on every front to deliver to this timeframe. The challenges to the energy system to refill /recharge these trucks will certainly be a critical focus for us in the next few years. But 19 years is a long time to deliver on all the necessary actions and I’m optimistic that given the pace of change we are seeing we can match the ambition set by government.”

Asher Bennett, founder and CEO of range extended vehicle manufacturer Tevva, said: “The government’s proposal to ban the sale of smaller diesel trucks from 2035 and larger ones from 2040 as part of its Transport Decarbonisation Plan is the right course of action given that HGVs account for around 18% of road transport emissions in the UK.

"However, it is now critical for investors and government to back electric truck solutions which meet the unique needs of fleet operators in an economically viable way. Unlike cars, which are used on average for 1.5 hours per day and buses that run on dedicated routes, freight trucks face different challenges when it comes to electrification, such as the requirement to work eight to 12 hours per day across varied routes, environments and distances. Not every electric truck manufacturer on the market has considered this requirement, creating a potentially expensive problem for fleet operators further down the line."

Electric truck builder Volta Trucks gave a guarded welcome to the plan, but said it doesn't far or fast enough.

Volta CEO Essa Al-Saleh said: “The publication of the UK government’s 'Transport decarbonisation plan' is welcome because it gives British fleet operators and buyers a level of certainty that didn't previously exist. That said, the ban on internal combustion engine trucks by 2040 is nearly 20 years away, and today's climate emergency cannot wait. Trucks account for less than 2% of road vehicles but 22% of CO2 emissions from road transport.

“It’s therefore disappointing that the UK government hasn't been as ambitious as the French authorities, for example, who have banned diesel engine trucks from the streets of Paris and other large city centres by the end of 2023."

The consultation closes on 3 September.