Source: RistoArnaudor/Getty Images

2023 was the best year ever for zero emission truck uptake, but they remain a tiny fraction of the UK’s fleet

Better government incentives are needed to convince road hauliers to switch to zero-emission trucks, says the automotive manufacturers’ trade body the SMMT.

This includes making it easier for operators and service companies to install charging infrastructure, with just one HGV-dedicated public charge location in the entire UK, on the M61 southbound at Rivington, says the organisation, which issued a call this week for “a dedicated national infrastructure plan to power Britain’s road haulage fleet”.

“HGV operators do not have the same access to infrastructure installation support as other sectors, and even those who have the resources to invest in depot chargepoints face additional hurdles in terms of grid connectivity and local planning constraints,” it states.

The SMMT also says that despite “massive manufacturer investment” in environmentally friendly technology – with 27 zero emission trucks on the market – a “slow approval process” means just two in five models are eligible for government grants.

The organisation is calling on ministers to reform the “dated” Plug-in Truck grant, introduced eight years ago. Although this is designed to help operators switch from conventionally fuelled heavy commercial vehicles, zero emission alternatives are only eligible after an approval process that takes around two years, asserts the SMMT. This means that only 10 models on the market attract the funding.
Streamlining this process could remove almost 19 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, says the SMMT.

“Given new truck purchases are critical long-term investments for hauliers operating with tight margins, transitioning to zero emission operations requires commercial benefit and operator confidence. Zero emission trucks are currently more expensive to manufacture so grants are essential if operators are to benefit from the many advantages, including potentially lower running costs, quieter operations, and more positive public perception,” says the organisation.

Despite record registrations of zero emission trucks last year, there are still only 327 vehicles in operation – around one in 2,000 of the UK’s HGV fleet.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “2023 was the best year ever for zero emission truck uptake but they remain a tiny fraction of the UK’s fleet. With an end of sale date of some fossil fuel HGVs starting in less than 11 years’ time – the same as cars and vans – urgent action is required.

”Operators facing higher capital expenditure, a paucity of dedicated charging infrastructure, planning constraints and grid delays to depot upgrades, need a next generation incentive and infrastructure strategy and planning reform if they are to invest in the greener future the country needs. Doing so would not just cut carbon and improve air quality, it would put the UK at the forefront of global road transport decarbonisation.”