CEO Update

Net zero means leaving no motorist – or sector – behind

26 April 2024 #CEO Update

Britain’s motorists and businesses got behind the wheel in record numbers last year while at the same time reducing their carbon emissions, new Motorparc figures from SMMT this week show. More than 41.4 million cars, vans, trucks and buses were in use in 2023, with the biggest jump in car ownership since 2016 – in part thanks to new zero emission vehicle (ZEV) uptake almost doubling year on year. The carbon saving as a result was equivalent to the average UK car emitting -2.1% less CO2 annually, underlining the importance of getting more ZEVs on our roads.

It’s a mission statement not just for the car but the van, bus and truck sectors, too, each facing similarly ambitious decarbonisation targets yet at very different stages of their transition. Demand for the greenest trucks is some way behind them all, however, with ZEVs accounting for just one in 200 new HGVs registered. This makes the 2035 end of sale of new fossil-fuel powered trucks weighing up to 26 tonnes, which account for more than 70% of the market, an immense challenge that needs urgent attention from policymakers.

Manufacturers have committed billions to bring a huge range of competitive ZEV models to market but, to get mass adoption rolling, Britain needs a globally competitive environment for fleet decarbonisation enabling operators to access the latest, greenest vehicles and use them to their full potential. Major industry innovation was clear to see at this week’s Commercial Vehicle Show, featuring some 118 new HGVs and light commercial vehicles coming to market – many of them zero emission. As set out in a new SMMT paper published at the event, however, a ‘next generation’ Plug-in Truck Grant is essential for more operators to switch to the latest zero emission trucks, along with a nationally joined-up plan for ZEV infrastructure at depots and public locations. Given the time such projects will take to complete, such a plan is already well overdue.

Infrastructure is still one of the biggest barriers to greater EV adoption across all vehicle types, so it was disappointing that government last week, in its response to a House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee report, ruled out putting public charging VAT on par with home charging. The move would have ensured a fairer transition for consumers and sent a message that the time to switch is now. SMMT’s latest car manufacturing data shows industry is already well committed to a mass transition, with OEMs continuing to adjust their factories to make a new generation of cars, notably electric. The latest independent outlook, meanwhile, expects zero emission commercial vehicle output to continue its growth across 2024. But mass adoption of these vehicles now depends on factors beyond the factory gate. It’s high time that all new vehicle buyers – from consumers to fleet operators – got the encouragement they sorely need.

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