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Bumper heavy vehicle demand – but action needed to unblock market

22 February 2024 #TNB News

Last week, SMMT published the end of year registration figures for heavy vehicles – showing some 46,227 trucks joined Britain’s roads last year, along with 4,932 buses, coaches and minibuses. It’s the result of significant growth in fleet demand for all types, sizes and uses of these vehicles, so let’s take a closer look at just how successful 2023 was for the commercial vehicle sector as a whole.

The HGV market grew for a second consecutive year, up 13.5% on 2022 – and to put that into perspective, that’s 5,511 additional trucks registered in 2023. With growth like that, the sector is celebrating as the backlog in orders became unblocked, following the easing of supply chain issues since the pandemic, with manufacturers able to meet operator demand for the newest, most efficient and lowest emission trucks.

As part of that, zero-emission truck take-up has trebled since 2022, with 234 new ZEV HGVs entering service with operators across Britain. The 0.5% market share may seem small – but continuing that growth trend will mean many, many more in the coming years. HGV manufacturers have spent billions developing and bringing zero emission trucks to market, and the range will carry on increasing in the next 18 months. With the bi-annual European truck show at IAA Hanover in September, we can expect a many more models and even further progress on show.

However, delivery does depend on confidence in infrastructure. Last year, SMMT launched its policy paper on zero emission truck charging requirements, and we continue to call for government to produce a clear, national plan for the public network, depots and hydrogen refueling stations. This is the single biggest key that needs turning to unlock greater green operator investment.

As a sign of what can happen when the right policy levers are pulled, the bus, coach and minibus sector’s next stop is net zero. Demand for such vehicles of all powetrains grew with 2,554 more single and double decker buses on UK streets – double deckers benefiting from an increase of a staggering 173.6%. Net zero fleet investment has played a massive role, with zero emissions vehicles comprising almost half of all new single- and double-decker buses delivered in 2023. That means the UK is Europe’s biggest zero emission bus market.

That growth is primarily being driven by government funding via Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) and Scotland Zero Emission Bus (ScotZEB) funding. The second round of ZEBRA will give successful applicants less than a year to finalise their procurement and place orders by the end of next January – which could be challenging for smaller operators with fewer resources to dedicate to the tendering process. Having smoother and more flexible frameworks is important therefore to get as many zero emission vehicles as possible on the road beyond Britain’s urban centres.

Meanwhile, the minibus market, having struggled with supply disruptions since the pandemic, continued to build back with 18.3% growth, reaching 2,378 registrations. Most minibuses are based on heavy vans and zero emission vehicles, taking advantage of the driver derogation for 4.25-tonne vehicles. However, there is a risk that orders could be held back as operators await derogation to drive these vehicles on a standard category B licence.

Competition drives progress. Industry is investing, innovating and delivering an impressive range of zero emission models to market. We also had news today that volume production of a medium-sized electric van will start in Luton from 2025. With the right support, legislative framework and business conditions in place, more manufacturers will have the confidence to make net zero investments on UK shores.

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