UK government reveals decarbonisation plan for cars, vans and HGVs

15 July 2021

The UK government has published its transport-decarbonisation plan. It lays out a more detailed map for the country’s transport sector as it journeys towards net-zero emissions by 2050. Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, unveiled the plans in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26.

‘Transport is not just how you get around. It is something that fundamentally shapes our towns, cities and countryside, our living standards and our health,’ said Shapps. ‘It can shape all those things for good or for bad. Decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process. It’s about how we make sure that transport shapes quality of life and the economy in ways that are good.’

Plotting a roadmap

Earlier this year, the UK government confirmed it would begin a phased approach to zero-carbon-only registrations beginning in 2030. The new transport-decarbonisation plan not only solidifies, but builds on this roadmap.

By 2030, the sale of new cars and vans powered solely by petrol or diesel will end. By 2035, new vehicles must have no tailpipe emissions at all, ruling out all hybrids equipped with an internal-combustion engine (ICE). All new L-category vehicles will need to emit no tailpipe emissions (subject to consultation) by 2035 too. Then, by 2040, the sale of all non-zero-emission heavy-goods vehicles (HGVs) will come to an end, also subject to consultation.

So, by 2035, the UK could see an end to ICE-powered vehicles weighing from 3.5 to 26 tonnes. From 2040, this looks to extend upward beyond 26 tonnes and could be even earlier if deemed feasible.

Hoping to lead by example, the government brought forward its own target date to transfer its central fleet of 40,000 cars and vans over to zero-emission models by 2027, three years ahead of schedule. It also outlined its response to the smart-charging consultation. This will involve laying down legislation later this year to ensure all new private charge points meet smart-charging standards, which can save consumers money on their energy bills.

‘The transition to EVs is central to government’s net-zero commitment but will also increase demand on the electricity system. Smart charging can help mitigate these impacts,’ Shapps wrote in his statement to Parliament. ‘This legislation will play an important role in driving the uptake of smart technology, which can save consumers money on their energy bills.’

‘Accessible and affordable’

‘The automotive sector welcomes the publication of the transport-decarbonisation plan and associated consultations, which are necessary to create a clear and supportive framework to accelerate the transition to net-zero mobility,’ said the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

It went on to explain that the industry is already delivering a continually-expanding range of electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs), which are being bought in growing numbers. In fact, nearly 50,000 electrified units were registered last month in the UK, over half the amount of petrol-engine vehicles, gaining a market share of 19.6%.

But the society cautioned that achieving the net-zero target cannot be left solely to the automotive sector. Massive investment is still required in infrastructure development, demand for which is only accelerating. The SMMT points out the need for a plan and ambitious targets to deliver this essential component of electrification. Furthermore, this transition must not risk excluding consumers.

‘The electric revolution must be accessible and affordable for all. The right regulatory framework can give drivers the confidence to switch, and manufacturers the clarity they need to invest,’ the SMMT said. ‘However, the ambitions are incredibly high and the timeline tight, so any regulation must be backed by a package of measures that accelerate market uptake through consumer incentives, as well as an irreversible commitment to the expansion of charging infrastructure and rapid energy decarbonisation, so we’re not putting brown energy into green cars and vans.’

Criticism from haulage industry

While the SMMT was mostly positive, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) criticised the plans for decarbonising the UK’s HGV fleet. It pointed out the plans were too speculative, short in detail, and could be potentially damaging to business. ‘This proposal as it stands is unrealistic,’ said RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett. ‘These alternative HGVs do not yet exist – we do not know when they will and what they will cost.’

He went on to explain that for many haulage companies there are fears around the costs of new vehicles, and a collapse in resale values of existing units. The association explained that while it supports the ambition to decarbonise the UK, there is a need for affordable, inclusive and coherent market-driven policies.