Photo 213310085 © Scharfsinn86
© Scharfsinn86

Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) will be cost-competitive with conventional trucks by 2040, but efficient regulations can bring a switch closer, providing they remain “technology-neutral”, claims a new report.

The International Transport Forum’s report found efforts towards cost parity between ZEVs and trucks using internal combustion was “proceeding at a pace that will see it achieved without government intervention for all vehicle types by 2040”.

Decarbonising Europe’s Trucks: How to Minimise Cost Uncertainty adds: [However], the smallest vehicles, with high daily mileage and a reliance on depot charging, already had the potential in 2022 to reach parity with diesel vehicles.

“Policy measures are essential to help accelerate the adoption of ZEVs. Effective measures include purchase subsidies, carbon taxation and low interest rate loans to reduce vehicle financing costs.”

Nonetheless, the report warns that any government involvement needs to take note of the differing technologies and remain impartial in supporting ZEV uptake.

Analysing three options – battery electric vehicles (BEVs), electric road system vehicles (ERVs) and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCVs) – the ITF said the first two offered “greatest promise” in competing with conventional vehicles, explaining: “This is predominantly due to their higher energy efficiencies, which keep operational costs low and offset higher upfront purchase costs.

“Further detailed assessments of the relative merits of both are needed to understand which technology can offer the most significant financial and CO2 savings, while accounting for real-world constraints.”

For this reason, it added: “Technology-neutral policies that avoid closing the door to either are warranted until it is clear policy objectives could be better achieved by one of them.”

But it cautioned against pursuing FCVs, noting that they could only become competitive in a “small number of edge cases”, due to the increased costs of developing the necessary fuel-cell technologies and the associated difficulties in providing “refuelling infrastructure”.

While there has been a pronounced uptick in larger hauliers migrating part, or all, of their fleet to some form of electric power, for smaller operators the switch has been less assured. For many, there is a fear that government intervention would see them abandoned in the name of a “greenwashing” exercise that fails to consider the logistics of a switch and the higher capital required to buy electric vehicles.

One haulier told The Loadstar: “I would consider EVs for city centre multidrop deliveries, as they can be charged overnight. But for distance work, they are a no-go, and if you factor-in that most medium-distance trucks run two shifts a day, that would destroy everyone’s business model. Then imagine thousands fighting for space at charging stops.”

Compounding their concern was faith in the vehicles, with one driver noting that currently if they get a “last minute job”, they can jump in an empty unit, fill it with fuel and drive.

“Can this be done with units if they are being charged? This lack of flexibility is a major headache, and it is only made worse by the limits on running time and expectations of how costs will be recouped,” the driver added.

The haulier said cynicism also stemmed from a belief that once a certain number of firms had made the switch, taxes would be increased to make up for the lost fuel revenue.

The ITF report, however, notes that, with the right policies, the costs of switching would be “negligible” and offset by lower operational and maintenance costs.

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