As a result of lockdown restrictions imposed in the last year due to the pandemic, we saw the sharpest drop in carbon emissions around the globe since records began, putting the spotlight on climate change with businesses, consumers and governments focused on action. But the question of whether the automotive and transport industry is doing enough to accelerate the pace of change still stands.
‘Going green’ has been a trending topic in the global automotive industry for some time, as manufacturers have been investing billions of pounds to develop the cleanest vehicles in history, with emissions from new vehicles at an all-time low.
As the transportation industry becomes more interested in the notion of ‘green’, increasingly we are seeing a switch in the sector towards more eco-friendly power sources – however, there is a still a long way to go on the road to green mobility.
While news about future mobility and electric vehicles is often in relation to private cars, it is important to recognise the substantial role that commercial vehicles will play in the evolution of mobility. We’re already seeing a number of businesses, particularly in the retail and logistics industries, invest in green fleets.
Amazon is expanding its zero-emission fleet in the UK with electric Mercedes-Benz vans, while DPD has put in an order for 1,500 Maxus electric vans – but there are still considerable barriers to businesses moving to electric commercial fleets.
Legislation and government backing
In our cities, legislation still remains the key driver of change in the automotive market with the introduction of clean air zones (CAZs) and ultra low emission zones (ULEZs) propelling the need for innovation in cleaner transport solutions.
While these new restrictions may be positive in terms of reducing emissions in our city centres, it may lead to many businesses and commercial vehicle drivers incurring charges that they are unable to avoid when carrying out work or deliveries within these zones.
With more of these restrictions being implemented across the country, it is vital that businesses do not defer their move to electric.
On 27 July 2021, the government announced a new £20 million funding boost that aims to accelerate the UK’s transition to zero emission road freight, in a bid to support the industry and create further jobs within the sector.
This funding will support zero emission road freight trials to help develop innovative solutions to support the uptake of zero emission trucks and should encourage more businesses to consider the switch to electric sooner rather than later.
This announcement follows the launch of the government’s transport decarbonisation plan along with the consultation on a phase-out date for new non-zero emission HGVs – showcasing its ongoing support for the industry to develop new and innovative technologies that will help the UK to meet its net zero target by 2050.
Whilst there is still a way to go to ensure the UK develops sufficient infrastructure to support businesses transitioning to greener fleets, it is positive to see the government’s continued support for the shift to cleaner technologies.
As part of its efforts to encourage the adoption of electric cars and LCVs, the government is reportedly still considering a new ‘zero-emission mandate’ scheme, which in effect forces vehicle manufacturers to sell more electric vehicles, even if demand is lower than other fuel types.
The hope is this will boost sales of these types of vehicles and effectively drive down costs, making it more affordable for businesses. Supposedly, this will mean firms who fail to meet their target could purchase credit from other manufacturers.
Issues: infrastructure and cost
For some time, there has been concern that the UK’s infrastructure requires further support to push businesses and consumers towards greener mobility solutions and the lack of charging points is one of the main challenges for those considering the transition, and a barrier to the wider adoption of greener vehicles.
Several miles between charging points, lack of access to points or charging points being out of order, are all challenges that can mean long-distance journeys – which is more likely in CVs – will be made difficult and time consuming.
In the Budget 2020 announcement Rishi Sunak claimed that, within a few years, no one will ever be more than 30 miles from a charging hub. Whilst this remains ambitious, Sunak’s renewed commitment to green growth in his 2021 budget was reassuring and the transport and logistics sector welcomed this news.
The Electric Vehicle Charging Market Report from the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) suggests the UK needs to increase the number of EV charging points across the country tenfold if it is to support an EV economy starting with the ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles.
For businesses that choose to adopt electric cars and LCVs, they must also consider the additional challenges such as more costly repairs and that only specialist garages are able to carry these out properly.
It is important we acknowledge that businesses cannot ‘go green’ overnight, due to the huge upfront expenditures involved in the move which, in the current climate, will not be viable for many businesses.
Businesses must consider the increased costs of the electric fleets themselves and find new ways of financing this investment, perhaps identifying more financially viable options such as rental.
Whilst the government is still clearly signposting fleets towards a greener future, the impact of widespread adoption of this technology will continue to prove a challenge in the coming years. The government must further support the production of LCVs and EVs, as manufacturers had previously relied heavily on subsidies to stimulate demand for them.
As we move closer towards the ban on the manufacture of new petrol and diesel vans and cars by 2030, it’s vital that businesses focus on, and plan for, moving towards operating 100 per cent electric fleets, including LCVs and HGVs.
In the longer term, this would help reduce the cost of EVs to increase affordability and enable more businesses to see how this transition could be a realistic solution.