The government finally confirmed its short-sighted decision to ban the sale of new diesel lorries by 2040.
This deadline may even be brought forward if ‘technically feasible”. This at a time when the industry is struggling to overcome a huge shortfall in qualified HGV drivers, and it’s predicted the amount of road freight will grow significantly - fuelled by the shift to online shopping. The government would do better to replace the phrase technically feasible, with practically and economically feasible.
Currently there is no workable pure-electric alternative capable of powering HGVs over medium and long distances. Electric vans and light trucks are emerging onto the market, but their range is severely limited. Hydrogen is considered the future for HGVs due to its longer running distances and faster refuelling. Several manufacturers in Europe are already working together to develop the technology, but even market leading Hyundai estimates it will only have produced 1,600 long haul hydrogen trucks globally by 2025. The government has simply drawn a policy line in the sand – relying on manufacturers to pull a technological rabbit out of the hat that can produce an electric or hydrogen lorry that needs to be at a similar price point as a diesel. While the UK’s electric car market may be growing – with new petrol and diesel cars banned from 2030 - the truth is that the same trick does not work for trucks. The development of pure electric HGVs is constrained by the size of the battery required to power both lorry and cargo. The charging infrastructure doesn’t exist to cope with the mass transition to electric cars, let alone trucks. Meanwhile, the infrastructure to support hydrogen powered vehicles is extremely limited – with only a handful of hydrogen filling stations in the UK. To make economic sense to my own firm, Moody Logistics would need to set up its own hydrogen filling station at its depot in Cramlington, Northumberland, while at the same time converting the entire fleet. The huge investment required simply isn’t realistic. Currently, the nearest hydrogen filling station sits 45 miles away on Teesside. The 2040 ban will have the effect of persuading transport companies not to update their diesel fleets, meaning older and therefore more polluting trucks will remain on the roads longer – and manufacturers will have no incentive to develop more efficient internal combustion engines. It’s worth remembering that almost 80% or 1.6 billion tons of freight are transported on the UK’s roads each year. Without the necessary technology and infrastructure in place, the whole industry faces unprecedented upheaval that will have a direct impact on the economy. Rather than setting deadlines, the government must put policies in place to support the transition to net zero, such as tax breaks and grants. Otherwise, the likely eye-watering cost of introducing pure electric or hydrogen HGVs will ultimately be passed on to the consumer.