SME hauliers claim UK zero-emission plan for HGVs puts them at risk

Daimler H2 Powered fuel cell truck. Credit Daimler.

By
18/05/2022

SME hauliers in the UK fear being abandoned in a government “greenwashing” exercise. They are questioning plans to transition domestic haulage to sustainable fuels.

Last week, transport minister Trudy Harrison announced what she claimed would be “the world’s largest fleet of zero-emission HGV, which would be supported by a Department for Transport (DfT) GBP200m (£248m) three-year “demonstrator programme”. Ms Harrison’s announcement followed EU proposals announced a day earlier.

SME hauliers claim UK zero-emission plan for HGVs puts them at risk

She said: “Our road freight industry is one of the most efficient in the world, but we must accelerate our journey towards net zero goals. We’re committed to leading the way globally on non-zero emission road vehicles [and] our ambitious plans will continue to ensure food is stocked on the shelves and goods are supplied, while eliminating fossil fuels from HGVs and making our freight sector green for good.” However, details were scant, beyond noting that the DfT money would go into open-call competitions for battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

SME hauliers are questioning what the “move to green” would mean for them, and the logic in pouring efforts into “green” HGVs at a time when green city transport solutions are ready and waiting for government support. One haulier told The Loadstar: “The power loss of green fuels in comparison with diesel is marked, meaning the only wagons that can run efficiently are smaller ones. “It probably makes sense to have green transits in city centres for 7.5 tonne vans and the like, running parcel services completing multi-drops, but the refuelling infrastructure for this is very expensive.”

The European Parliament proposals are to revise CO2 emission performance standards for new cars and vans, part of the EU’s endeavour to reach what it is describing as “zero-emission road mobility” by 2035. The proposals will see the cap for eco-innovation gradually reduced in line with stricter reduction targets for road transport emissions. For hauliers, Europe’s focus on turning its parcel fleets green makes sense, and one suggested the UK should follow this lead while encouraging uptake of more efficient diesel HGVs.

“The only way to make the UK plan work is, firstly getting all the big fleet operators on board and then having green fuel infrastructure at every truck stop. Otherwise it won’t work, and the cost of installing these at every yard is prohibitive, and very risky,” said the haulier. “I look at this government plan and see a lot of virtue signalling and posturing, when there is way too much risk to be moving HGVs over [to green fuel].

“They also need to be careful about not alienating smaller hauliers any more than they already have – what they should be focused on is making diesel wagons as fuel-efficient as possible. We run Mercedes at 14 miles per gallon, Scanias and Ivecos only do 7-9 mpg.” Logistics UK’s acting deputy director of policy, Michelle Gardner, welcomed Ms Harrison’s plans but echoed haulier sentiments by demanding adequate infrastructure.

“Logistics businesses are committed to decarbonising their operations, but to ensure a smooth transition, they need clarity on the path to zero.

The trials announced will play a crucial role in identifying the right technological solutions to help enable this,” she said.

“Logistics UK is urging government to ensure the necessary supporting infrastructure and regulatory framework to make the use of these vehicles feasible for logistics businesses,” she added.