Paul Holland, managing director for UK Fuel at Fleetcor
The Government recently announced its decision to ban the sale of new diesel or petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from 2040.
This is part of its drive to become carbon neutral by 2050, having previously announced it will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and hybrids by 2035.
Undoubtably, the goal to see all new vehicles to be zero emissions by 2050 will have a significantly positive impact on the environment.
This is because the UK’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the transport sector, responsible for 27% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.
Globally, around 7% of carbon emissions are generated by HGVs.
I support the goals of this mission as there is much to be done to bring this statistic down and there is more we can do as an industry to better protect our environment.
That being said, it is key that the Government considers the practical realities of the 2040 deadline – less than 20 years from now - as this move is an important step towards a zero-emissions future, but it is premature.
That is because there currently does not exist the technologies and infrastructure to enable HGVs to sufficiently operate as they do currently.
HGVs have operated using traditional fuels since their usage, functionality and popularity boomed in the 1920s, and our road systems and supporting infrastructure are set up to allow them to refuel using petrol or diesel.
While we should look towards progression and innovation, the UK does not have the infrastructure to support mass use of alternatively fuelled HGVs.
For example, hydrogen is a strong contender as an alternative power train, but at present it would be impractical to operate national freight, as there are only 13 hydrogen refuelling stations in the country.
Simply put, developing a standardised alternative fuelled powertrain and putting the infrastructure in place that will enable the seamless use of it will take longer than the 19 years given.
Furthermore, this deadline puts immense financial pressure on the UK’s businesses that rely on their HGV fleets as part of their essential operations.
This comes against the economic backdrop of the recent recession, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Owning and maintaining an HGV is expensive in its own right, and while the maintenance and power for an alternatively fuelled vehicle may be lower, the total cost of ownership is likely to be a barrier to entry for many of the UK’s businesses.
Add to that the additional training needed for drivers as they adapt to a new way of operating their vehicles, and it’s easy to see why cost can be a problem.
It is for these reasons that petrol and diesel will remain essential until the 2040 deadline, and Keyfuels urges the Government to ensure there is the proper support for businesses throughout the transition.