Zero-emission freight: vehicle market and policy development briefing for C40 cities

The Green and Healthy Streets Declaration (the GHS Declaration), launched by 12 C40 cities in 2017, now boasts 35 global signatory cities, committed to working with partners to procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 and to ensure a major area of their cities are zero-emission by 2030.

The future delivery of zero-emission zones (ZEZs) in cities relies on the sustainable transportation of goods and critical services. The transition to zero-emission light, medium, or heavy-duty vehicles has the opportunity realize health and climate benefits of ZEZ’s. The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the world’s cities and laid bare long-standing inequalities. Not just a global health crisis, but a social and economic one, COVID-19 has reinforced the need to continue transforming the transportation sector with zero-emission technologies to support clean air, clean jobs, and climate action.

Zero-emission vehicles are rapidly becoming available in the light, medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle categories used in the urban and regional freight and service industries. Vehicles available today range from light cargo vans and trucks for last-mile delivery to medium-duty food-and-beverage and goods delivery or service trucks, to the heavy tractor-trailer combinations used around urban regions (for hauling goods from ports and terminals, from warehouses to stores, or for waste operations, for instance).

While vehicle availability and choice is currently limited, the array of offerings is expanding, thanks to greater demand and as more manufacturers prepare and test their designs for production. The next few years will see a significant expansion of both models and manufacturers.

Phasing in zero-emission vehicles 

The timing and pace of zero-emission vehicle implementation will happen in phases. Because of the current capabilities of zero-emission vehicle technologies, initially, they are likely to be deployed in the light and medium-weight urban and regional freight market. These ‘beachhead’, or first-success, applications will carry goods on known delivery routes, generally returning to a base location at night for charging. Such ‘return-to-base’ fixed-route operations make the best use of the current range and performance of zero-emission vehicles.

While often more expensive than the vehicles they replace, the first zero-emission vehicles will have the best opportunity for economic payback on a total cost-of-ownership (TCO) basis, thanks to their high efficiency and reduced maintenance costs, and the comparatively lower cost of electricity as a fuel.

The progression of larger zero-emission vehicles to the market will build on the zero-emission transit bus market. The next phase or wave to come is in light and medium-sized freight, service, and shuttle vehicles. As technology improves, market volumes will increase, component costs will come down in price and the business case will improve, enabling technology to expand into heavier truck classes over ever-longer ranges.

Challenges for implementation

The report sees challenges in:

  • High vehicle upfront costs. While battery costs are falling and zero-emission vehicles are cheaper to operate and maintain than conventional vehicles, the initial purchase cost of a zero-emission vehicle is still generally higher than that of comparable vehicles.
  • Limited vehicle availability. 
  • Limited availability and access to charging/refueling infrastructure. 
  • Limited fleet awareness. Fleet operators may be hesitant to purchase a new technology that has not been widely tested and adopted, making a new zero-emission vehicle a significant investment and potential risk, both in terms of cost and performance.
  • Lack of competitive zero-emission fuel pricing. Electricity rate structures are often difficult to understand and not designed for vehicle needs and must be competitive with conventional fuels.
  • Limited service and support networks. Maintaining advanced vehicle technologies involves a steep learning curve and fleet managers are encountering a dearth of qualified technicians.

Policies for cities

The report presents policies for cities. Send long-term policy signals to businesses and fleets, and coordinate policies with key government partners and stakeholders. Work with key government partners and stakeholders to include provisions for zero-emission vehicles and adoption in COVID-19 national recovery and stimulus packages. Encourage purchasing and production through a combination of user requirements and, where possible, purchase incentives. Create a structure for effective and timely and investment and the installation of smart charging infrastructure.

Support local and regional knowledge sharing through pilot projects, setting shared goals, and building capacity for zero-emission vehicles uptake and support. Join in collective action and coalitions. Effectively tackling freight emissions will require collective and coordinated action across the largest vehicle markets.

Source: Zero-emission freight – vehicle market and policy development briefing for C40 cities

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