TNB News

British truck and bus boon

17 August 2023 #TNB News

Many truck operators still need long-term confidence to switch their critical fleet renewal investments to zero emission models, a challenge that primarily depends on delivering public and depot infrastructure to support the breadth of green models now available. However, this year is turning out to be a point at which the sector is positioned for a national strategy to that end, with the latest SMMT data for Q2 showing that HGV registrations grew for the fifth consecutive quarter, up by 17.2% to 11,174 units.

The pages of already strong order books are filling up thanks to rising demand from the construction sector, while easing global supply chain disruptions have improved product availability – with deliveries of articulated trucks up 23.3% and rigid trucks rising by 12.5%. It means that registrations in the year to date have risen by 17.1, reaching some 22,691 units – surpassing typical pre-pandemic levels for the period. Meanwhile, zero emission truck uptake rose from 0.3% of the market in Q1 to 0.4% in Q2. Here is an opportunity to convert operator confidence into green growth.

SMMT’s HGV infrastructure paper highlights the complete absence of public, truck-dedicated electric charging and hydrogen refuelling points on Britain’s strategic road network, a barrier that will shackle operators from ordering zero emission vehicles until it is solved. National strategic planning and investment will inevitably be required, and the sooner it is provided, the smoother the sector’s transition will be in the lead up to 2035 and beyond.

At the same time, there is a need to support businesses looking to refit their depots for net zero operations, given the unavoidably higher cost of electric and hydrogen infrastructure, compounded by obstacles related to energy supply and grid connectivity.

It can often be easy to find short-term justifications to delay long-term planning, and the ongoing success of the sector cannot be taken for granted. When it comes to the net zero transition, success should be harnessed and used to deliver our green targets.

The same principle applies to the bus and coach sector, with fleet renewal showing signs of stabilising this year – rising by 5.9% in the second quarter of 2023, with 1,129 of these precious vehicles due to reach UK roads. It represents the first quarter of growth for the bus and coach market since Q2 last year, and follows a slight decline of -0.6% in Q1, with increased demand for single and double deckers, up 32.0% and 211.3% respectively.

Given that the latest single- and double-deck models are greener than ever, and are fruitful segments for zero emission vehicle uptake – not just in regions with Clean Air Zone commitments – robust fleet renewal is essential to improving air quality in British towns and cities.

But while bus and coach demand has risen by 2.8% to 2,097 units in the first half of 2023 – the best first-half performance since the Covid pandemic began – that is still -20.7% below 2019 levels, underlining the scale of the challenge to recover lost ground during the pandemic, which knocked ridership confidence to historically low levels.

Short-term measures such as the Bus Fare Cap Grant, which will run in its current form until the end of October, has provided vital support to operators and encouraged growth in passenger numbers. But it does not provide long-term certainty, given that operators need to plan years in advance of business-critical investments.

A streamlined Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) fund in particular could underpin a comprehensive, long-term strategy, given government’s own targets to deliver more of these vehicles. While 17 regions have benefitted from grant funding, a further 48 regions have not had access, reflecting the need to make the process smoother and more timely so that the scheme can achieve the ambition from which it was born.

Investment in zero emission trucks, buses and coaches will only come with confidence that UK infrastructure – both public and at the depot – is sufficient to meet business-critical needs. SMMT will continue to call on government, therefore, to pull every lever to drive net zero investment in Britain’s future, to facilitate a stable, long-term transition to decarbonised road transport.

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