The zero emissions HGV market is “parked at a red light” with no clear plan from government on how it will make the transition to a carbon-free future, BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney told the rental and leasing body’s online ‘Fleets in Charge’ conference today.

While the electric van market received a “brakes on at an amber light” rating from the BVRLA, Keaney said HGVs remained his “biggest concern”.

In response Caroline Low, director of environment and future of mobility at the DfT, said the government had committed £20m to an initial trial of zero emissions HGVs and was currently assessing responses to its consultation on phasing out fossil fueled trucks up to 26 tonnes by 2035 and larger trucks by 2040.

“Setting dates galvanises the market and enables the private sector to do what it does best – just getting on with it,” Low said. “Research will be at a national level but early projects will be place-based. If for example hydrogen looks like it will be a big part of local plans it makes sense to trial [hydrogen vehicles] there.

“But maybe elsewhere batteries or catenaries will make more sense. We don’t have the answer yet on which of those three technologies could work so we will test all those at scale and with the private sector work out which to pursue.”

More progress is being made with electric vans but many operators still do not believe there are enough suitable vehicles available. While Tesco fleet engineering manager Cliff Smith said the retailer is now introducing EVs to its home delivery operation, AA president Edmund King said the recovery operator had not found an EV with enough towing and load capacity to meet its needs.

And Smith added that there was only supplier who could offer Tesco the 4.25-tonne chassis cab it needed. “On the heavier trucks most manufacturers are still running test vehicles or only just opening their order books,” he said. “Availability is still the show stopper for us though the door is opening on vans.”