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Gloucestershire Business News

Truck and bus sales on the rise

Sales of trucks and buses in Britain are on the up, but the industry has warned that the pace of change for sustainable transport is too slow and it urgently needs government help.

As a significant indicator of commercial activity, latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) show that second quarter growth across both the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) market and for buses, coaches and minibuses has enjoyed a welcome return to pre-pandemic levels.

In all, the UK market for new HGVs grew by 17.2% to 11,174 units, making this the fifth consecutive quarter of growth. The SMMT said the direction was primarily driven by registrations of articulated trucks, up 23.3% to 5,121 units, while deliveries of rigid trucks rose by 12.5% to 6,053.

A spokesman said: "That reflects increased demand across the majority of truck segments, with tractors continuing to be the most popular by some distance, up by 23.7% to 5,047 units and a 45.2% market share. Registrations of box vans grew 14.2% to 1,153 units, while deliveries of curtain sided and dropside trucks rose by 23.6% and 7.6%. Tippers were the only segment in the top five to record a decline, with registrations down -12.5%."

Rising demand and easing supply chain restrictions were identified as a helping factor in HGV registrations which surpassed typical pre-pandemic levels.

"Five successive quarters of market growth demonstrates the confidence of HGV operators in renewing their fleets with the latest fuel efficient trucks. This includes zero emission models, with electric and hydrogen HGVs representing 0.4% of the market, up from 0.3% in Q1 this year," said a spokesman.

But the SMMT is warning that zero emission uptake must accelerate more quickly.

It warned that the sale of new non-zero emission HGVs, weighing under 26 tonnes, is due to be phased out in 2035 - the same date as cars and vans.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "With just one full cycle of fleet renewal remaining before 2035, urgent action is needed to deliver HGV-dedicated public charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure - which is currently absent on UK roads - alongside support for depot infrastructure installation that matches Britain's zero emission ambitions.

"HGV fleet renewal has flourished, finally beating pre-pandemic levels with five straight quarters of growth. Growing confidence for fleet investment is also translating into new zero emission truck demand, demand which must grow still faster if the UK's green goals are to be achieved.

"Accelerating this transition, however, requires dedicated HGV charging and refuelling infrastructure and incentives to encourage uptake and depot upgrades. Doing so can help Britain become the world's first decarbonised truck sector. There is no time to delay."

Good news also came in the latest SMMT data for the bus, coach and minibus sector, with Q2 sales showing the market grew by 5.9% and a tally of 1,129 vehicles registered.

The uptick is the first quarterly rise in demand since Q2 2022 and the best Q2 volume since 2019, the SMMT said, amid "stabilising ridership levels following a sharp decline during the Covid pandemic".

Growth was driven primarily by deliveries of double and single deckers, up by 211.3% to 193 units and 32.0% to 478 units respectively. However, registrations of minibuses fell for the fifth quarter in a row, by -28.7% to 458 units, as supply disruptions, the SMMT warned, hamper the sector despite strong order books.

A spokesman said: "Passenger numbers began to increase following the pandemic and short-term measures such as extending the Bus Fare Cap Grant will help to maintain that trend, which will be critical for operators to ensure services are accessible and affordable.

"A long-term strategy, however, is needed to boost operator confidence to invest in fleet renewal, particularly with electric and hydrogen models given the sector's importance to UK decarbonisation."

The government's Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) fund, now withdrawn, provided grants to 17 regions for the latest, greenest vehicles, but a further 48 regions are yet to access the fund and Gloucestershire has not seen any provision.

The nearest funding zone was Oxfordshire, which signed a £82.5m deal with the government in January to deliver the first of 159 electric buses to the county.

"Urgent action is necessary," the SMMT warned, "to make the application process smoother and more timely so that all stakeholders are able to deliver their green ambitions."

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "A rise in bus and coach fleet renewal driven by demand for single and double deckers indicates that the sector is stabilising - but operators continue to face highly challenging conditions, hampering sustained growth.

"The industry needs a long-term government strategy to deliver growth and decarbonisation, boosting uptake and underpinned by a more streamlined ZEBRA funding process. With the right support, this critical sector can continue to deliver affordable, accessible and sustainable mass mobility across the UK, while driving improvements to air quality in our towns and cities."

Speaking in March on the speed of green transition for the freight industry, Kate Jennings, director of policy of Logistics UK, formerly the Freight Transport Association, said it remains vital that the government provides a delivery roadmap for commercial electric vehicle infrastructure, low carbon fuels (LCFs) and rail electrification, so businesses can invest in confidence.

Ms Jennings said: "For operators electrifying their fleet, the capital expenditure required for depot charging can be extortionately high, with some operators who are currently in the process of electrifying their van fleets reporting costs of over £1 million - which is often not commercially viable, especially if premises are leased. The UK therefore needs a roadmap for electric logistics vehicles that includes a fair approach to funding electricity connections for depot charging. Public charge points must ensure sufficient space for logistics vehicles and fast charging points to enable operators to maximise the efficiency of fleets."

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