GF100 Most Influential: getting fleets to net zero


Written by Kate Armitage

The GF100 Most Influential is made up of fleet managers, vehicle manufacturers, government officials, NGOs, fleet suppliers and energy companies that have shaped the green transport agenda over the year. With this cross-sector perspective, we asked the group what needs to happen to ensure fleets can successfully transition to net-zero. Here’s what they said:

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy in the world to commit to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.  Whilst many fleets have already begun the transition to ultra-low emission, achieving net zero by 2050 is a huge undertaking.  
We surveyed the GF100 Most Influential – a group of the most influential people that have shaped the zero and low-carbon fleet industry over the year – in advance of the GF100 LIVE! event which took place online on 27 August. They were asked their opinions on the barriers and priorities for the fleet industry in the coming years, with the aim of identifying the key steps that need to be taken in order to ensure fleets successfully transition to net-zero by 2050.  
The survey considered all ultra-low emission technologies, and it is clear that there is more than one path to achieving net-zero. Electric vehicles feature heavily as they are more widely available than other technologies, however other alternative fuels particularly, hydrogen, did feature as an important contributor for the journey to net-zero. Here’s what the GF100 said.

Support for an ICE ban in 2035

The ban on new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans is currently set at 2040. This date is being reviewed by OLEV as it is believed that 2040 is too late if the UK is going to achieve net-zero by 2050. The proposed new date for the ban is 2035 or possibly earlier.  
The consultation was broadly supported by individuals within the GF100 Most Influential, with over 70 per cent of respondents in favour of bringing forward the current 2040 date.  
Looking in more detail, 34 per cent said they supported 2035 date, while 38 per cent said they supported a more ambitious target of 2030.
However, it should be noted that fleet respondents were much more cautious, with the majority favouring 2040. Fleets were quick to remind us that non-standard vehicles, payload and range remain a concern. It was felt that the selection of vehicles available today was too limited, and there was a lack of confidence in the public charging infrastructure.  
Chris Lane from Birmingham University commented:  “By bringing the date forward by five years it may focus the mind of those that think 2040 is twenty years away, even if we miss the new date it will greatly increase the chance of achieving the original one.”

Including PHEVs in the ban is controversial

When asked specifically whether Plug-in Hybrids (PHEVs) should be banned at the same time at petrol and diesel vehicles, only 19 per cent of respondents agreed, with a further 35 per cent stating that PHEVs should only be banned once fully Zero Emission vehicles are more viable.
It was suggested that tools such as geofencing could be mandated to create “no ICE” zones with penalties for vehicles that do not switch to battery.
Mike Hawes, chief executive officer, SMMT is among those who believe that PHEVs should not be banned at the same time as mild hybrids. He said: “PHEVs have an essential role to play in the decarbonisation of transport and overcoming the barriers of range anxiety.”
The issue perceived about PHEVs is that there is no way to ensure they are being charged and used in EV mode. But putting this to one side, the challenge for OEMs is to deliver PHEVs with a longer electric range, retaining the ICE technology but reducing the dependency to occasional longer journeys.   
There is an underlying assumption that BEVs will continue to offer greater range, and faster recharging, thereby meeting the needs of most drivers.

Findings from the survey suggest that government should consider a tiered approach to the ban by fuel type; first petrol/diesel (inc hybrid) and PHEVs later.
The government should also consider a tiered approach to the ban by vehicle application, e.g. earlier targets for taxis and urban delivery vans.

Availability and cost of charging remains biggest barrier

It is frequently said that there is no silver bullet to achieving zero emission road transport. Respondents from the GF100 identified a wide number of barriers reflecting the scale of the challenge the industry is facing. The three barriers for the uptake of zero emission vehicles is lack of public charging and its difficulty of use (23 per cent); limited availability of vehicles and long waiting lists (19 per cent); and a lack of knowledge and experience when it comes to zero-emission vehicle technology.
The lack of reliable public rapid charging to support high mileage company cars and vans is a real issue. As of September 2020 ZapMap reports that there are 7,230 rapid (50kW DC) chargepoints and 1153 High-Power (100kW+ DC) chargepoints, in 2340 locations across the UK. While there are new public rapid chargers being added every day, fleets require the rapid infrastructure to match the speed and reliability currently enjoyed in ICE fleets.
Some fleets reported long lead times/waiting lists for vehicles (pre-Covid 19).  It was also noted that choice across the full range of vehicle segments is still limited; this was particularly highlighted for vans where bespoke requirements (eg refrigeration) are currently not met.
The problem of long lead times must not be amplified by Brexit, and government intervention is required to ensure frictionless supply of ULEVs to the UK.
Chris Chandler, principal consultant at Lex Autolease, commented: “A critical element of policy making in the short term, especially with Brexit and leaving the EUs CAFÉ system, is to ensure that UK is able to secure cost effective supply of electric vehicles to meet the growing demand.”

Government needs to take a longer term view on policy

OLEV has created a number of very successful incentives and policies for ULEVs (such as the Plug in Car and Plug in Van Grant, home and workplace charging and BIK taxation).  
OLEV has also been proactive in providing knowledge and education tools for fleets (eg Go Ultra Low for Business). It has also recently committed £500m towards Project Rapid. However, there are two further areas that are particularly important for fleets.
Thirty-eight per cent of respondents want more certainty about grants & tax. Despite the announcement in the March budget that BIK rates for ZE vehicles would remain at two per cent through to 24/25, there was still a feeling that more longer term certainty was needed.
Twenty per cent expressed a need for further funding for recharging infrastructure.  The cost of charging infrastructure is seen as prohibitive, particularly when electricity networks need to be upgraded. This issue is compounded for fleets that do not own the car park or depot.
It is therefore recommended that the fleet industry needs the taxation policies to be fixed beyond 2025, and that government should consider additional grant funding for electrical upgrades for depot based fleet charging.

Question mark over trucks

While doubts around 2050 net zero targets for trucks exist, in particular long haul, specialist and utility vehicles that provide auxiliary power, the majority of respondents (65 per cent) believe technology will develop fast enough to produce zero emission, fit-for-purpose, and cost effective trucks by 2040.
“Achieving zero emission long-haul HGVs will be challenging in this timeframe, though demonstrators will be in place,” comments Andy Eastlake, managing director at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP).
It was noted by one respondent that despite facing heavy penalties in the future, OEMs remain focused on efficient diesel.
Hydrogen was a recurring theme for fit-for-purpose trucks; the technology is proven, however the timetable for mass production and the associated infrastructure remain unclear.
Graham Thomas, Fleet Operations Manager, Ocado noted: “Unfortunately too many local authorities and think tanks are completely BEV centric and have restricted the opportunities for hydrogen to develop both in terms of the technology and infrastructure.”
Commercial viability to produce fuel cell vehicles, refuelling infrastructure and the hydrogen itself was also called into question, with one experienced low emission HGV fleet operator noting “hydrogen is very inefficient as a road fuel, which means it will be expensive vs BEV and catenary. Good efficiency should be a priority for any alternative fuel.”
It was generally felt that more government support was required if hydrogen was going to become a commercially viable ZE alternative to BEVs. By far the majority of respondents felt that the 2050 deadline for net zero operations for transport is achievable, with only 12 per cent saying it was an unfair expectation of fleets.
Colin Ferguson from the Algorithm People commented that the “expectation is fine; but there should be further discussion about the road map and its way points on the road to zero”.
Carbon offsetting remains an option for operations that cannot be made zero emission, but is it being considered by the industry? Fifty-eight per cent of respondents felt that it was quite or very likely that they would off-set vehicle emissions if necessary, while others felt that it would not be necessary by 2050.

The importance of renewable energy

Renewable energy was the one area where virtually the entire GreenFleet 100 Most Influential was in agreement. There is an undeniable correlation between the switch to an ULEV and using renewable energy, with ULEV drivers described as “the vanguard of using green electricity”.  
But battery electric vehicles aren’t just users of electricity; it should also be remembered that through smart charging and Vehicle to Grid technology, the batteries in the electric vehicles can be used to provide flexibility and storage services that will become increasingly important as we increase the volume of wind and solar generation onto the grid.

Fleet Planners have a vital role to play too

The complexity of the transition to ZE calls into question traditional methodologies, and ultimately over this period of dramatic change it will be the fleet managers and planners who will need to adapt and modify business practises.    
Nigel Morris, Swansea University provided these words of encouragement: “If we do this, this and this, we can make it work.  Shift the fuel and maintenance, ULEZ/Congestion charge budgets into the lease cost, invest in a corporate or collaborative charging solution, use PV, battery storage and controls to shift to off peak renewables and reap benefits moving forward.”
There is little doubt that there are exciting times ahead, and with the support and encouragement from leaders and innovators, such as the GreenFleet 100 Most Influential, there is every opportunity for fleets to be net zero by 2050.

Report findings / recommendations

After asking the GF100 Most Influential their views on net zero targets for fleets, the following is recommended:

  • Government should consider a tiered approach to the ICE ban by fuel type, with the PHEV ban coming into effect later than petrol and diesel.    
  • Government should consider a tiered approach to the ICE ban by vehicle application, e.g. earlier targets for taxis and urban delivery vans
  • Government intervention is required to ensure frictionless supply of ULEVs to the UK post Brexit.
  • The fleet industry needs the taxation policies to be fixed beyond 2025.
  • Government should consider additional grant funding for electrical upgrades for depot based fleet charging.
  • More certainty is needed on the commercial viability of both BEV and hydrogen trucks for haulage operators.
  • Kerbside emissions are just half the story; the energy industry must continue the switch to renewable energy.

To find out who is on the current GF100 Most Influential, click here

To see the whole report, click here