A leading automotive industry body has called on the government to create a plan for the transition to zero-emission HGVs before announcing a ban. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says the government needs to support research into zero-emission vehicles before they become mandatory.

The calls come after the government announced plans to “phase out” the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered heavy goods vehicles from 2040. Although currently in a consultation stage, the existing plans would ban the sale of new petrol- or diesel-powered HGVs weighing up to 26 tonnes in 2035, before banning the sale of heavier petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles in 2040.

And the government has already announced a £20 million investment in zero-emission HGV research. The money will pay for a study into train-style ‘pantograph’ charging, which would see trucks top up with electricity from wires slung above the road, and trials of hydrogen-powered HGVs.

Traffic on British motorway with HGVs

But the SMMT says more should be done before the government bans the sale of diesel-powered trucks. In a statement, the organisation said the powers that be should work to “support for infrastructure, technological development and long-term market transition” before introducing bans.

The industry body said all of Europe’s major truck manufacturers have agreed to make new HGVs “fossil fuel-free” by 2040, and are investing heavily in solutions to replace diesel, the most commonly used HGV fuel. However, the organisation points out there is “no clear technology” that can currently allow full zero-emission operations for all kinds of HGV.

HGV passing by on the road

The SMMT’s own analysis shows just 0.2 percent of HGVs on the road in 2020 used alternative fuels, while electric vans made up 0.3 percent of the total number on the road. And although the uptake of battery-electric vans is improving, just 2.6 percent of new vans were electric during the first seven months of 2021, compared with 8.2 percent of new cars.

“The industry is committed to be fossil fuel free, but there is not yet a clear technology path for every weight class and every use case,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “Before it sets a deadline for the sector, the government must support the technological development and market proposition and provide the right framework, so hauliers don’t defer their decarbonising decision to the last minute. Plans before bans is the key.

“Vans face fewer obstacles in this decarbonisation journey than HGVs but adoption rates remain low, driven by the lack of charging points and higher operating costs relative to diesel. 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 to reach net zero.”

Motor1.com has contacted the Department for Transport (DfT) for comment but has not yet received a response.