Panel of Experts: Commercial Vehicle Decarbonisation
The stop-sales date for new diesel vans and trucks is looming, which poses challenges for those operating commercial vehicles. Our expert panel highlights the issues and share some solutions and advice for fleet operators looking to decarbonise
The government plans to stop the sale of new diesel vans by 2030, and trucks by 2035 (up to 26 tonnes) and 2040 for over 26 tonne trucks. However, given the size, weight and operation requirements of heavier vehicles, and a zero-emission truck market that’s in its infancy, there are significant barriers to overcome for commercial vehicle operators.
One of the biggest hurdles is the high upfront cost of electric and alternatively-fuelled vehicles. Paul Wright, who heads up the contract hire and leasing division for commercial vehicles at Asset Alliance Group, explains: “Transitioning to non-diesel vehicles may involve higher upfront costs due to the price difference between diesel and alternative fuel vehicles. Fleet operators will therefore need to assess their budgets and financial feasibility of acquiring new vehicles within the given timeframe.
“The range of vehicles can also be a potential barrier, especially at this early stage. Operators will need to carefully evaluate the range and capabilities of alternative fuel vehicles to ensure they can meet their operational requirements.”
With regards to heavy-goods vehicles in particular, Paul points out that the public charging infrastructure is currently a problem. He explains: “At the moment, public charging infrastructure for HGVs is limited, which impacts the ability of operators to charge their vehicles during long-haul journeys or at specific locations. The government and industry stakeholders will need to invest in the expansion of charging infrastructure to support the widespread adoption of electric or hydrogen-powered HGVs.”
Managing a mixed fleet of diesel and alternative fuel vehicles may also present challenges in terms of maintenance and servicing. To tackle this, Paul advises operators to develop appropriate fleet management strategies to address the unique requirements of different vehicle types and ensure optimal performance.”
Despite the challenges, transitioning to a greener fleet is possible, but it does require careful planning. Paul explains: “Switching from diesel to alternative fuel vehicles may require adjustments in operational practices and additional training for drivers. Operators may experience some downtime during the transition period, as vehicles are replaced or retrofitted with new technologies. Logistics planning will therefore be crucial to ensure a smooth transition and minimise disruptions to operations.”
The resale value of diesel vehicles is another point to consider. Paul explains: “With the ban on new diesel vehicle sales, the resale value of existing diesel vans and trucks may decline over time. Operators will need to consider the impact on their fleet’s residual value and potentially explore options for selling or repurposing diesel vehicles before the deadlines.”
With regards to light commercial vehicles (LCVs), David Haynes, corporate & international LCV business development manager at Athlon UK, suggests that the lack of financial benefits could be hampering electric van take up. He says: “In the UK, the main driver for electric car uptake has historically been tax reduction, specifically BIK. This is not to say other elements such as CSR and carbon reduction have not also been factors in the decision making process. But with LCVs, it isn’t as clear cut. The main driver for electric-LCV up take is legislation, and this presents different challenges to those faced by car fleet drivers/managers as there isn’t a specific economical driver helping early adoption.”
There are also charging considerations to bear in mind, such as whether the driver is expected to charge at home, as well as how they will be reimbursed. Plus buying or leasing electric products can be more expensive than comparable ICE product so the initial outlay can make the cost benefit for the customer more complex too, despite potential running cost benefits.
David Haynes comments: “The reality for LCVs at the moment is that even though more makes and models are becoming available, there are still too few BEV commercial vehicles that can achieve long distances on a single charge whilst carrying a full load, as well as long lead times for delivery. This means that fleet managers will need a greater focus on route planning and fleet management to factor in charging and downtime within journeys. Organisations will need to better understand their charging requirements, as current on-premise charging facilities may not be adequate to keep a whole fleet running.”
To help with all this, David Haynes says: “Athlon UK have been working with EV specialists, Diode Energy to launch our EVReadyTool which provides insights and support throughout as our customers transition their fleets and company car schemes to EV.”
A challenging timeline
Sharing these thoughts on the challenges caused by high costs, vehicle ranges and charging infrastructure, Simon West-Oliver, director of sales at AssetWorks commented: “Electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles often have higher upfront costs compared to diesel counterparts, and operators will need to carefully assess their financial feasibility and consider potential financial incentives or grants.
“Another challenge is the range of alternative fuel vehicles. Commercial operators rely on vehicles with sufficient range to cover long distances, and the current range limitations of some electric or hydrogen-powered trucks may require careful route planning and consideration of charging or refuelling infrastructure along the way. Adequate range and payload capacity are critical factors for ensuring the operational viability of alternative fuel vehicles in commercial settings.”
Furthermore, the availability of public charging infrastructure for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) is crucial, believes Simon. He comments: “Commercial operators will need a robust network of charging or refuelling stations that can accommodate the specific needs of HGVs, including high-power charging capabilities. The development and expansion of this infrastructure will require collaboration between the government, charging service providers, and commercial vehicle operators.
“Overall, the government’s timeline for phasing out diesel vehicles poses challenges for commercial vehicle operators as highlighted above. Proactive planning, investment, and collaboration among stakeholders will therefore be crucial to address these challenges and ensure a successful transition to a greener commercial vehicle fleet.”
Preparing for the future
Despite the challenges, there are steps that commercial vehicle operators can take to prepare for a diesel-free future.
Paul Wright from Asset Alliance advises that as a first step, fleets should evaluate their duty cycles and operational requirements to understand the specific needs of the fleet. “Do this by identify the routes, distances, and usage patterns to determine the optimal range and charging infrastructure requirements for alternative fuel vehicles,” says Paul.
Doing your research is also important. Paul explains: “Explore different alternative fuel technologies, such as electric, hydrogen, or biofuels to determine the most suitable option for your fleet. Assess the availability, performance, and range capabilities of alternative fuel vehicles to ensure they align with your operational requirements.
“And in terms of financing the move, keep track of government grants, incentives, and funding programs that support the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles. Research and engage with financers and leasing companies that offer favourable financing options.”
If going down the electric vehicle route, it is vital to assess your charging requirements based on the duty cycles and range needs of your fleet. Paul recommends doing this by collaborating with charging infrastructure providers to understand the charging solutions available for your fleet, including depot charging, on-route charging, and overnight charging options.
There are other technologies to consider too, at least in the interim period. Paul says: “Investigate retrofit technologies that can help upgrade existing diesel vehicles to reduce emissions and comply with future regulations. Stay updated on advancements in retrofit technologies, such as hybrid conversion kits or emissions reduction systems.”
Collaborating with others in the sector, providing driver training, and embarking on pilot programmes, are other ways that fleets can make steps towards a cleaner fleet. Paul says: “By proactively taking these steps, freight operators can prepare themselves for a diesel-free future, optimise their fleet operations, and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation industry.”
Gradual is okay
Athlon UK’s David Haynes warns that some fleets can feel overwhelmed by such a major transition. In response, he says that it is okay to take a gradual approach: “Electrification does not need to be an all at once situation; that can become overwhelming and prevent operators from seeing the long term picture. Electrification is a process and needs to be implemented as part of a strategy understanding the current situation and developing a road map for a successful delivery. Take time to understand the current market place as well as the future of electric LCVs, ranges, charging and payloads.
“The biggest challenge to freight operators will be the requirement for infrastructure both on the motorway network but also at their own sites. Charging a battery on a 26 tonne truck is not as simple as putting a fast charge into a passenger car, and nor can they pull up at the service station coffee shop and plug in next to a family car. Now is the time for planning and collaboration. Freight operators understand their requirements better than anyone and need to ensure that they are working with local government to influence and accommodate.
“It is also important to remember some vehicle requirements may never be easily transferable to electric vehicles, so fleet managers need to consider the changes needed to the current fleet to allow for the 2030 target,” David says.
Simon West-Oliver from AssetWorks says there are several steps freight operators can take to prepare for a diesel-free future. “First and foremost, understanding duty cycles is crucial,” Simon urges. “By analysing their specific operational needs, operators can identify the range, payload capacity, and charging/refuelling requirements of alternative fuel vehicles that align with their transportation tasks. This will help in selecting the most suitable vehicles and technologies for their fleet.
Exploring funding options is another essential requirement. Simon says: “Operators should research and leverage available grants, incentives, and financial programs offered by the government or other organisations to support the adoption of low-emission vehicles. These funding opportunities can help alleviate the higher upfront costs associated with purchasing or retrofitting alternative fuel vehicles.
“Additionally, assessing the charging requirements is vital, especially for electric vehicles. Operators should evaluate the charging infrastructure needed to support their fleet, considering factors such as on-site charging stations, high-power charging capabilities for quick turnaround times, and potential collaborations with charging service providers. Developing charging infrastructure plans early on will facilitate a seamless transition to a diesel-free fleet.”
Staying updated on emerging technologies, industry regulations and best practice is also essential. Simon says: “Freight operators should actively engage with industry associations, attend conferences, and collaborate with other operators to gain insights and share knowledge. This will enable them to make informed decisions, adapt to evolving market conditions, and embrace the most efficient and sustainable solutions.”
The government’s ‘Decarbonising Transport’ strategy says that by 2030, last mile will be largely decarbonised through new delivery models, supported by accurate data and digital innovations driving greater efficiencies. In that decade, it says that cities will have the logistics solution that best fits them, allowing places to become more people-centred while still delivering goods rapidly and reliably.
Operating in cities and urban centres poses challenges for fleet operators, with traffic, parking, and clean air zones all driving many fleet operators to look at ways to decarbonise and operate more efficiently.
“Last-mile and urban operations often contribute significantly to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in densely populated areas,” explains Paul Wright from Asset Alliance. “Decarbonising these operations can help improve air quality and reduce the carbon footprint, leading to a healthier environment.
“Governments and local authorities are implementing stricter regulations and emission standards to combat air pollution. Commercial vehicle operators need to comply with these regulations to avoid penalties and maintain their operations in urban areas.
“What’s more, consumers and businesses increasingly prioritise sustainable practices. By decarbonising their last-mile operations, commercial vehicle operators can enhance their reputation, attract eco-conscious customers, and align with evolving market demands.”
Going electric is one way to eliminate emissions from the last mile. Athlon UK’s David Haynes says: “Many organisations are already using BEV vans for last mile operations, favouring ICE vehicles to haul goods long distance with emission neutral vehicles completing the last few miles. This is obviously important from a CSR perspective as these last few miles are likely to be through urban and residential areas.
“In addition to organisation’s environmental credentials this could have a direct impact on their total cost of ownership. The current cost to enter the ULEZ (ultra-low emission zone) in London for non-complaint vehicles is £12.50 per day and to enter the Central London Congestion Charge zone it is an additional £15 a day. This could add up to £500 a month per vehicle to make deliveries or collections into this zone.
“The solutions available to last mile operations are constantly changing and evolving with exciting developments happening on a regular basis, with not all solutions fitting all models. Having a growth mind-set and understanding the vehicle choices available to you is key. Could an ebike work, or a cargo bike or automated delivery vehicles? It’s important to challenge the status quo where we can when making decision on the what the future looks like.”
Vehicles for urban environments
Paul Wright from Asset Alliance agrees that electric vehicles are a good way to navigate the issues of last mile deliveries. He says: “Battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are an increasingly popular solution for urban operations. They produce zero tailpipe emissions, offer quiet operation, and have lower operating costs compared to traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. EVs are suitable for short-distance deliveries and can be charged at depots or through an expanding network of public charging infrastructure.”
“Electric bicycles (e-bikes) and electric scooters (e-scooters) are gaining traction as efficient and sustainable options for last-mile deliveries. They are particularly suitable for urban environments with limited parking and congested streets. E-bikes and e-scooters offer flexibility, reduce congestion, and emit zero emissions during use. Cargo bicycles and trikes, equipped with cargo boxes or trailers, are suitable for small-scale last-mile deliveries in dense urban areas. They offer zero-emission transport options and can navigate through narrow streets, pedestrian zones, and bike lanes more effectively than larger vehicles.”
Beyond the vehicles, smarter planning can help with greening urban operations. Paul says: “Implementing smart logistics solutions such as route optimisation, load consolidation, and dynamic scheduling can minimise the number of vehicles needed for last-mile deliveries. By optimising delivery routes and combining shipments, operators can reduce mileage, fuel consumption, and emissions.
“Establishing urban logistics hubs or consolidation centres can centralise deliveries in urban areas. This approach reduces the number of individual vehicle trips into city centres by enabling efficient transhipment of goods to smaller, low-emission vehicles for final deliveries.
“Leveraging Intelligent transportation systems (ITS), such as real-time data, traffic management systems, and smart parking solutions, can enhance the efficiency and sustainability of last-mile operations. Operators can optimise delivery routes, reduce idle time, and improve overall fleet management.”
Beyond electric vehicles, Paul encourages fleet operators to examine other alternative fuels such as hydrogen, biofuels, and natural gas for last-mile operations.
Summing up, Paul says: “Commercial vehicle operators should carefully evaluate the specific requirements of their last-mile and urban operations to determine the most suitable combination of solutions for their fleet. A holistic approach that combines multiple strategies and technologies will be crucial for achieving significant decarbonisation.”
Reducing emissions from towns and cities
As cities become increasingly congested and concerned about air quality, reducing emissions in urban areas becomes a priority. Simon West-Oliver from AssetWorks believes there are several solutions to achieve this goal. Like our other panelists, Simon believes that electric vehicles play a significant role in decarbonising the last mile. He says: “Electric vehicles offer zero-emission operations, reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. Commercial operators can invest in electric vans or trucks for their urban deliveries, taking advantage of the expanding availability of EV models with improved range and payload capacity. Charging infrastructure development in urban areas, including fast-charging stations, is essential to support the widespread adoption of EVs.
“Another solution gaining traction is the use of cargo bikes for urban deliveries. Cargo bikes provide a sustainable and agile alternative, particularly for shorter distances and smaller loads. They can navigate through congested areas, offer efficient parking options, and contribute to reduced traffic congestion and emissions. Commercial operators can explore partnerships with logistics companies specialising in cargo bike delivery or consider integrating cargo bikes into their existing fleet.”
Simon adds that delivery hubs and consolidation centres are also effective solutions for decarbonising urban operations. He explains: “By establishing centralised hubs on the outskirts of cities, commercial operators can consolidate goods and complete last-mile deliveries using low-emission vehicles such as electric vans or cargo bikes. Delivery hubs enable the optimisation of routes, reduce the number of individual vehicle trips in densely populated areas, and minimise overall emissions.”
Technology too is important when considering the last mile. Simon says: “Innovative technologies such as route optimisation software and real-time traffic information systems can optimise urban delivery operations. By identifying the most efficient routes, avoiding congestion, and minimising idling time, these technologies help reduce fuel consumption and emissions.”
Another recommendation is to collaborate with stakeholders when implementing decarbonisation solutions for urban operations. “Public-private partnerships, involving local governments, transportation authorities, commercial operators, and logistics providers, can foster the development of infrastructure, incentives, and regulations that support sustainable last-mile delivery initiatives,” comments Simon.
With the challenges discussed, it is important that commercial fleet operators feel supported when it comes to decarbonisation.
To facilitate the transition of commercial fleet operators, especially those operating heavy-duty vehicles, to electric vehicles, several forms of support can be beneficial, says Paul Wright from Asset Alliance. The first is government grants and financial incentives. “These help offset the higher upfront costs associated with purchasing or leasing electric heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs). Providing grants for EVs can encourage fleet operators to make the switch by reducing the initial investment and narrowing the price gap between electric and conventional vehicles,” says Paul.
Another vital area where support is needed is infrastructure development, especially for HGVs. Paul says: “Support should be given for the development of robust charging infrastructure suitable for heavy-duty EVs. Financial assistance or incentives can be provided to businesses and charging infrastructure providers to encourage the installation of charging stations at depots, along major transportation routes, and in urban areas.”
Another way that fleet operators can get support in the switch to zero emission vehicles is through trials and testing programmes. Paul says: “Government-led trials and testing programs can enable commercial fleet operators to assess the feasibility, performance, and operational implications of electric HDVs in real-world scenarios. Funding for pilot projects and trials can help operators gather data, evaluate charging infrastructure requirements, and address any challenges specific to their operational needs.
“There should also be support for research and development initiatives focused on electric HDVs and how they can accelerate advancements in battery technology, charging infrastructure, and overall vehicle performance. Funding opportunities can foster innovation, encourage collaboration between industry stakeholders and academia, and drive the development of more efficient and cost-effective electric HDV solutions.”
Support should also be provided for training programmes so that fleet operators and their drivers gain the necessary skills and knowledge to operate and maintain electric HDVs effectively. “Offering subsidies or grants for training programs can facilitate the transition and ensure a skilled workforce capable of optimising electric HDV operations,” says Paul.
A smooth transition
Getting support from organisations from within the industry can greatly assist the transition to zero emission vehicles.
David Haynes from Athlon UK says: “As a leasing and mobility company, we have a responsibility to support fleet operators to make the transition. Many organisations are experts in their own field but need our support and guidance when it comes to their vehicles. This support needs to go beyond which specific vehicle to purchase (although that is important).
“At Athlon we have launched our EVReadyTool which looks at the full fleet deployment and factors in data such as typical journey times, routes and durations, where the vehicles are kept and what they are being utilised for to assist fleet managers start their transition. The output of the platform is a comprehensive report that tells the fleet manger not only which drivers or routes are ready for EV but also what potential changes they need to implement (such as additional charge points or home charging solutions). The tool will provide fleet managers with the insight they need to transition the drivers that are ready to make the switch today, and the steps they need to take to prepare those that are not.”
Simon Oliver-West from AssetWorks believes there should be comprehensive support initiatives tailored specifically to the needs of the freight and logistics sector. He say: “Grants for vehicles and infrastructure would greatly assist us in managing the higher upfront costs associated with electric heavy-duty vehicles. Financial incentives can make the transition financially viable and encourage us to invest in cleaner transportation options. Additionally, support for installing charging infrastructure, including high-power charging stations, would alleviate the burden of infrastructure investment.”
Infrastructure development is crucial for us to confidently adopt electric heavy-duty vehicles, believes Simon. “Governments and local authorities should prioritise the establishment of a robust charging network along major transportation routes, at our depots, and in strategic locations for convenient overnight charging. With adequate charging infrastructure, we can ensure uninterrupted operations and optimise our fleet management,” says Simon.
Trials and testing programmes designed specifically for heavy-duty EVs would be immensely valuable, adds Simon. “Participating in such programmes would provide us with the opportunity to evaluate different electric vehicle models, assess their real-world performance, and gather essential data on range, charging times, and operational feasibility. This first-hand experience would help us make informed decisions about adopting electric heavy-duty vehicles,” Simon explains.
“Collaboration and knowledge sharing among fleet operators and relevant stakeholders would create a supportive community. Platforms for exchanging experiences, lessons learned, and best practices would enable us to navigate the transition to electric vehicles more effectively. Additionally, collaborating with charging infrastructure providers can address our specific charging needs and ensure a seamless charging experience,” Simon concludes.
Expert Panellist biographies:
Paul Wright, sales director (contract hire, leasing & rental), Asset Alliance Group
Paul Wright heads up contract hire and leasing division for commercial vehicles at Asset Alliance Group. During his career in the commercial vehicle sector, he has helped support a wide range of business from SMEs to blue chip companies covering various sectors.
Simon West-Oliver, director of sales, AssetWorks
Simon West-Oliver has over 30 years of experience in the fleet industry. Simon’s wealth of experience supports fleets in managing their assets by providing sustainable change with decarbonisation planning, digitalisation in workshops, embracing a circular economy and managing environmental and social compliance.
David Haynes, corporate & international LCV business development manager, Athlon UK
David has been a part of the Athlon family for over a year, as a business development manager specialising in LCV. David prides himself on being at the forefront of mobility solutions and works hard to prioritise customer needs in every way possible. As well as looking after corporate and international customers, David brings a wealth of experience across salary sacrifice and has been working hard to bring Athlon SalaryExchange to life since the product was launched earlier this year.