SMMT calls for support to electrify UK’s commercial vehicles

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FCEV HGVs like Hyundai’s Xcient are on the way, but UK infrastructure lags behind

Trade body says UK government should assess needs before setting deadline on ICE ban

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has called on the UK government to work with the industry on a realistic plan to facilitate the transition to zero-emissions heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) before announcing a deadline to ban new ICE vehicles. 

According to the SMMT, support from the government is needed to provide a charging and refuelling infrastructure that can handle commercial vehicle demands. The SMMT is also calling on the government to help train (or retrain) technicians to maintain zero-emissions vehicles. 

The government is looking to propose a 2040 deadline for the end of sale for ICE commercial vehicles.

European HGV manufacturers have agreed to produce fossil fuel-free vehicles by 2040, but these vehicles need a public network of charging and refuelling points to support the switch to zero-emissions propulsion. 

Currently just 0.2% of HGVs are alternatively fuelled; cars attained the same proportion in 2007. Electric vans are proving to be more popular than electric HGVs, with 2.6% of new vans being electric. However this still falls behind new electric cars, which have an 8.2% share of the market. 

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) estimates that some 8200 HGV charging points are required to facilitate a network of zero-emissions HGVs. To achieve this goal by 2030, two new charging points would need to be installed every day. 

Hydrogen has long been cited as the more appropriate fuel for different weight classes of commercial vehicles, but with only 11 refueling stations currently operating in the UK, installing the infrastructure for hydrogen-fuelled vehicles is a larger undertaking.  

SMMT chief Mike Hawes said: “The industry is committed to be fossil-fuel-free, but there’s not yet a clear technology path for every weight class and every use case. 

“Before it sets a deadline for the sector, the government must support the technological development and market proposition and provide the right framework so hauliers don’t defer their decarbonising decision to the last minute. Plans before bans is the key.”

In order to make the move to a zero-emissions fleet without public infrastructure, companies that can afford to do so are installing their own charging stations at their depots. While this is a good solution for short, back-to-base-style fleets, this is hard to implement on a wider scale. 

Speaking at an industry forum at the Commercial Vehicle Show, Hawes added: “The ‘first mover’ disadvantage is something that’s bedevilling the entire transition to decarbonised transport. Some way of sharing set-up costs is needed, so the first operator in an area doesn’t end up paying 100% of the cost to set up.

“The government is alert to the issue, and we [the SMMT] are working with energy providers and the distribution network through the Automotive Council to try to identify where the barriers are towards the roll out of infrastructure.” 

In terms of providing public charging infrastructure for commercial vehicles, the biggest “stumbling block”, according to Hawes, is “sorting out who pays”.

“There’s certainly money to be made from this, but the return on investment isn’t going to be short term,” he said, adding that it is vital to put this infrastructure in place, because without it, fleets have no incentive to switch, creating a vicious cycle. 

“Rolling out nationwide infrastructure will be a medium-to-long-term investment, and it needs government intervention to help derisk it,” said Hawes, concluding that reaching the dates set by for net-zero emissions will be hard without an intervention from policymakers. 

“One of the frustrations we feel as an industry is that the dates have been set but there isn’t a strategy set out to define how we’re going to get there,” he concluded. 

Trinity Francis and Greg Whitaker

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