Green careers week articles spotlight: How Automotive is moving towards a Greener future

In this article: The Government wants the UK’s transport emission to be net zero by 2050, we explore how attainable the goal is.

Even before all the hype about banning CO2-emitting new cars by 2035,  the Government set in motion a plan for the UK’s transport carbon emissions to be net zero by 2050.

Not many noticed the announcement because there was something to do with Europe and an election going on. However, the seeds were sown and the head of the Energy Savings Trust, Tim Anderson, commented: “The net zero target will require creativity, ambition and commitment across all transport sectors.”
But this raises the question about what this creativity is, and can we achieve the new target in time?

As SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes pointed out at the time: “There is no one size fits all approach to future mobility – we have to recognise that people live in different environments and will have different demands – the truth is that car ownership will be with us for a long time yet, but we look forward to the exciting developments to come.”

Industry experts believe it’s possible to hit the target, but it won’t be easy due to a host of factors that will need to be overcome.

Mike Walters, managing consultant at auto industry advisor Elevenci, said: “If we focus purely on vehicles and transportation the target is stretching but not unachievable. There is an accelerating, cross-societal focus on the dangers of climate change and human damage to the environment which we believe will dominate the political agenda over the next 10 years, driving increasingly ambitious political policy and legislation regarding emissions.

Walters think that in order to hit 2050 targets, policy and technology will need to work symbiotically across cars, motorcycles, buses, and trains with electrification, hydrogen-fuel cells, stringent bans on fossil fuel vehicles, sophisticated urban management (such as clean air zones) forming part of the complex jigsaw that is needed to achieve the emissions target.

Walters claims that much of the on-board vehicle technology already exists, and the growth and adoption of zero emission passenger cars is evidence of its role in reducing road emissions. However, there is more to transport than just cars.

Heavy thinking

“How we treat the movement of commercial goods and freight and our reliance on LCV and HGV is perhaps not as ‘top of mind’ for consumers, although many commercial vehicle manufactures are already producing battery powered trucks or have field tests underway across multiple markets. Plus, the continued advancement of vehicle technology won’t stop now, just because we’ve got battery powered vehicles already on our roads.”

Beyond vehicles, the Government also needs to create the infrastructure and governance to allow business to supply a zero-carbon transport system.

“The charging infrastructure is one well-documented example of the changing needs of passenger car and commercial vehicle users, which is required to meet a growing parc of battery powered vehicles. By future standards, the current model is neither connected or integrated and each mode has traditionally been viewed separately, hence a future transport strategy needs to address this to create the right environment to deliver the ultimate goal,” said Walters.

Richard Lidstone-Scott, commercial director at electric truck manufacturer Tevva, also believes some of the biggest challenges surround the way Government works to facilitate its target.

“The biggest hurdle is that there is not enough of an incentive for OEMs, especially in the UK which is a relatively small market, to push through a commercially viable solution for net zero carbon emissions in the commercial sector. Without that solution, net zero carbon emissions will not be adopted en masse by fleet operators,” he said.

However, he added there were some easy wins on the road to net zero emissions including range-extenders for commercial vehicles. “An easy win would be for back-to-base fleets to adopt this type of technology, which is available now, but it needs to be at a realistic cost point. If it costs too much, fleet operators won’t want to know,” he said.

The road to net zero carbon emissions isn’t going to be a simple or smooth one, and just because the target exists doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be met, but there is a drive in the industry to make sure it at least gets as close as possible.

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