20 oct 21

How government net zero targets will challenge fleets

Fleets face the prospect of losing electric vehicle subsidies and of cars and vans being banned from city streets as the UK Government sets out its net zero strategy

Fleet managers were given a vision of the challenges and difficulties that businesses will face to operate vehicles in future, when the UK published its Net Zero Strategy yesterday.

Timed to coincide with the COP26 climate conference that the UK will host in Glasgow, the document explicitly states the Government’s intention to move away from a transport system dominated by the private car, including electric cars.

“We cannot simply rely on the electrification of road transport, or believe that zero emission cars and lorries will solve all our problems. As we build back better from the pandemic, it will be essential to avoid a car-led recovery,” said the Strategy. “Alongside road vehicle decarbonisation, we must increase the share of trips taken by public transport, cycling and walking.”

Future for MaaS

The Strategy outlines plans to boost Mobility as a Service by reducing barriers to data sharing across transport sectors, in order to: “drive new products and services and ‘nudge’ people towards lower emission journeys.”

Its focus goes beyond emissions to encompass traffic volumes, with a warning that depending on progress, the Government will introduce additional measures to tackle congestion. It is currently gathering evidence as it explores the best way to boost vehicle occupancy, suggesting that increasing car occupancy from 1.55 to 1.7 people per trip could save nearly 3Mt of carbon per year by 2030.

Traffic-free roads

To support this reduction in car use, the Government has promised to invest £2 billion in cycling and walking infrastructure. The investment will pay for the construction of thousands of miles of segregated cycle lanes in all large towns and cities, with the objective that half of all journeys will be cycled or walked by 2030.

This poses an operational challenge to businesses whose vehicles have to enter town and city centres, and raises the prospect of completely traffic-free zones. The strategy proposes that freight and last mile deliveries will shift to rail, cargo bikes and even inland waterways.

Target for EV sales from 2024

To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, the Government will set mandatory thresholds for the percentage of vehicle manufacturers’ annual new car and van sales that must be zero emission from 2024 onwards.

This was welcomed by Transport & Environment, a NGO which campaigns for cleaner transport, which said that stricter targets could save 25% more CO2 by 2035 than the EU’s preferred regulation, which encourages the sale of plug-in and hybrid cars.

The SMMT, however, which represents vehicle manufacturers said any mandates on vehicle emissions had to be matched by “commensurate and binding requirements on the infrastructure sector” to install the charge points required to power the fast-growing numbers of EVs on British roads.

The Strategy also confirms the UK’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, and ban the sale of plug-in hybrid vehicles from 2035. Practising what it preaches, the Government has pledged that 25% of its own car fleet will be ultra low emission by the end of next year, and that all government cars and vans will be zero emission by 2027.

End to EV subsidies

There is also an alert to fleet operators that the grants and tax discounts available for zero emission vehicles will not continue. These subsidies are essential for EVs to compete with petrol and diesel vehicles in terms of their total cost of ownership, and any weakening of their value will undermine fleets’ budget forecasts for electrification.

“We need to ensure that the taxation of motoring keeps pace with the change to electric vehicles to ensure that we can continue to fund the first-class public services and infrastructure that people and families across the UK expect,” said the Strategy.

Discover more great insights in the Fleet Week 'Connected and Electric' from 18 to 22 October


Image: Shutterstock


Authored by: Jonathan Manning