SPECIAL REPORT: Is the electric lorry stuck in the crawler lane?
By Simon Hacker | 21st November 2023
One in five new cars sold is now electric. But when you look at the ratio in HGV sales, new figures indicate lorries have a big climb ahead if the UK is to meet its pledges on decarbonising our roads.
Like objects in the rear-view mirror, deadlines may be closer than they appear: sales of new non-zero HGVs weighing 26 tonnes and under will be banned by 2035, while by 2040, all new HGVs must be zero emissions.
Yet the latest UK sales show only one in every 119 trucks sold today doesn't come with an exhaust pipe.
Nevertheless, fresh figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) suggest demand for zero-emissions HGVs is coming to life: in the latest Q3 dataset, new registrations amounted to 0.8% of the total sales – quite a rise when just 0.3% were registered in Q1 and 0.4% in Q2.
So if business is beginning to invest, what's going right?
The SMMT points to the activity of HGV makers, who have now launched more than 20 electric or hydrogen HGV models in the UK, as well as "those forward-thinking operators that are taking full advantage of the latest tech".
Across Europe, Volvo dominates the choices of early adopters, while what spoils there are to share in emerging sales here are also shared with DAF, Renault, MAN and Chinese maker BYD. Volvo's mainstay FH Electric HGV, which weighs up to 44 tonnes with cargo, has a range of up to 186 miles, while Mercedes Benz's eAcros comes kitted with a faster charge time and a longer range of up to 248 miles . It can hold up to 490 KW of power and takes 2.5 hours to fully charge with DC (250KW), or a night stop of 9.5 hours with AC (43KW).
As a capital investment, e-lorries don't come cheap. According to the Electric Car Guide, the drive-away price can cost up to twice as much as a diesel counterpart. While a typical HGV might command a price tag of between £80,000-£100,000, an electric HGV could potentially present an upfront outlay of £160,000-£200,000. Upscaling of production and increased demand will, of course, decrease front-end pricing, while the government also provides grants of 20% of the purchase price on battery electric trucks, to a maximum of £16,000, for those classed between 3,500kg and 12,000kg gross weight, or a maximum of £25,000, for those above 12,000kg.
While welcoming the recent rise in sales, the SMMT says it is "far too early to rest on our laurels", adding that given the approaching deadlines it is "clear the sector has a significant challenge to overcome in the next dozen years."
Zero emission trucks can already perform a huge range of use cases, the SMMT says, and as with all technology, they will only improve further - but operators need depot and public infrastructure in order to use these vehicles to their full potential.
This is a key issue the National Grid (TNG) addressed back in May when it produced a road map on how "a future on-route charging and hydrogen re-fuelling network for HGVs can be delivered at pace, economically and efficiently".
By expanding to cover all road transport, TNG said the Government's £950m Rapid Charging Fund (RCF) could deliver enough capacity for on-route HGV charging and hydrogen re-fuelling at up to 78% of motorway service areas in England, while its own analysis showed that "for a small marginal cost increase, enough grid capacity to cover 100% of on-route HGV charging and hydrogen re-fuelling can be delivered - with the potential to realise cost savings by coordinating with the [government's] Zero Emission Road Freight Trial."
In reaction, major industry player Scania said it supported TNG and the government's ambitions, but Tanya Neech, the truckmaker's UK Head of Sustainability added: "It's imperative we get it right. Time is of the essence, and with our science-based targets guiding us, we are ready for the future. However, the infrastructure isn't. We need adequate provisions for these vehicles and long-term subsidies and incentives to create competitive total cost of ownership and operating costs."
The SMMT says that against the tough economic backdrop, switching an HGV plan to electric is far more acute as a proposition than for car and van users, given operators' "existential challenge to streamline their logistics against tight business margins".
This autumn, a milestone moment arrived with the installation of Britain's first-ever public HGV-dedicated charging point this autumn, a 360kW charger with elongated truck bays located at the southbound Rivington Services on the M61.
But it must now be followed by many, many more, says the SMMT's chief executive, at depots, truck stops and points on our strategic roads throughout the UK. And here in Gloucestershire, had it won its appeal against refusal , such a planning vision as Ermin Way Farm, near Cirencester, would be a prime location for this vital infrastructure.
Mr Hawes said: "Britain's sixth quarter of rising HGV rollout and increasing uptake of zero emission trucks this year underlines the sector's strong position, with operators in all UK regions getting the latest fuel-efficient and very greenest models."
But he warned: "The rate of zero emission truck uptake must increase.. both drastically and soon - amid significant obstacles to the sector's transition. With just one public HGV chargepoint in the UK, a national plan for public and depot infrastructure is urgently needed to make fleet decarbonisation a reality for all operators, now and in the long term."
Copyright 2023 Moose Partnership Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any content is strictly forbidden without prior permission.