This week the Commercial Vehicle (CV) Show took place at the NEC in Birmingham. It was the largest automotive trade show in the UK since the pandemic began in March 2020, and thanks go to all the attendees, exhibitors and those who organised the event. The Show provided a platform for SMMT to launch a new report, Fuelling the Fleet: Delivering Commercial Vehicle Decarbonisation, looking at how we decarbonise the UK’s vans and trucks.
These vehicles represent the backbone of the British economy, delivering our essential goods and services while also sustaining the country’s emergency services. With the pressing need to move to zero emissions for all road transport, the pathway to this goal for the CV sector is critical as the pace of change is lagging someway behind cars.
SMMT analysis has revealed that the commercial, technological and operational barriers currently associated with new technologies such as batteries and hydrogen has restricted progress in the decarbonisation of the CV sector. Indeed, in 2020, only 0.2% of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) were alternatively fuelled – contrasted with cars, which reached this proportion in 2007.
Battery electric van usage, meanwhile, reached 0.3% in 2020 – the same proportion as cars in 2019. Uptake rates for electric vans have continued to grow rapidly, reflecting how battery power can effectively replace fossil fuels in this vehicle class, but just 2.6% of new vans registered between January and July 2021 were battery electric vehicles (BEVs), compared to 8.2% of cars.
The comparatively slow progress compared to cars is not for want of commitment by the commercial vehicle sector. The industry is committed to be fossil fuel free but, as the report illustrates, there is no clear, single technology path for every weight class and every use case.
The diversity of the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sector in particular, with different vehicles delivering different services – not just freight but bulk products, refuse collection and construction to name but three – means that a range of technological solutions may be required but they must all be commercially viable if they are to displace diesel else cost increases of just about all goods will be passed onto consumers.
One of the major obstacles to both van and HGV electrification, however, is infrastructure. Put simply, whilst the charging and fossil-free refuelling network isn’t keeping pace with electric car uptake, it barely exists at all for commercial vehicles.
Before it sets a deadline for the sector, the government must support the technological development and market proposition for this sector and provide the right framework so hauliers don’t defer their decarbonising purchasing decisions to the last minute. We need plans before bans.
The new models are there, with many more coming, but without investment in incentives and infrastructure, the commercial vehicle sector will struggle to meet our shared ambition of net zero.
Our next event, the inaugural SMMT Global Trade Conference, is coming up on Tuesday 12 October. Held online it will bring together a broad audience from our membership, senior global automotive executives, policy makers, trade experts and the media for a range of keynote sessions and engaging panel discussions. SMMT members are eligible for a complimentary ticket, and you can find out more information here.