Net zero gear shift is a spanner in the works for fleets — but it’s not all bad news

October 31, 2023

Philip van der Wilt
Philip van der Wilt

Senior Vice President, EMEA


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The dust has started to settle following the UK’s recent decision to push back the ban on the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles from 2030 to 2035. And while it may have dominated the front pages at the time, it was not a total surprise. 

Reports from the ongoing House of Lords enquiry into electric vehicles (EVs) and the Prime Minister’s subtle shift in rhetoric over the summer as he called for a more “pragmatic” approach to achieving net zero, among other things, all pointed to a change in direction. 

As I wrote just a couple of weeks before the PM made the official announcement: “This has led to speculation in some quarters that the UK Government may be prepared to soften its roll-out plans.” 

The response from the industry within hours of the announcement was swift with critics claiming that it “reduces the ability of operators to confidently invest in the transition”, while others said it would have an “end-to-end impact on the automotive industry”.

Paul Hollick, chair of the Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP), spoke for many fleet managers when he said: “Businesses have put in huge amounts of work on electrification and spent substantial sums. 

“The fact that the deadline can then be moved in what appears to be a fairly arbitrary manner doesn’t endear the government to fleets,” he wrote. 

Assessing the mood of fleet managers 

As a business focused on the safety, efficiency and sustainability of fleets, this issue is something that resonates across the whole of Samsara. One facet of our technology platform is its ability to help fleets manage the transition to EVs. As such, we wanted to understand more about the government’s recent policy shift and the impact this might have on fleet managers. 

So we commissioned a survey of 60 fleet managers  — carried out at the beginning of October — to try and gauge opinion. The good news is that despite all that’s happened, eight in ten (82%) are in favour of reducing fleet-based emissions. 

And yet, while they’re supportive of the overall aims of net zero, they’re also pragmatic with  60% believing that extending the ban until 2035 — to ensure that the current concerns over infrastructure and some other EV limitations are ironed out — is positive for the UK overall.

Perhaps more worrying, though, is the potential long-term dent in confidence that could have lasting damage across the sector. That’s because, at the time of the government’s changes to the net zero deadlines, 85% of fleet businesses already had plans in place to meet the 2030 deadline.

And of those businesses who had, almost nine in ten say they are either reconsidering their plan (44%), slowing down their plan (41%), or scrapping it altogether (2%). 

Fleet operators left to deal with the impact of changing policy

Combined with the fact that a majority of fleet businesses have already invested money (85%) and time (78%) to meet the 2030 deadline — and a third (33%) say that money has been wasted — fleet managers are once again being forced to deal with another headache they could do without.  And that’s simply not good for business confidence or industry morale. 

Whichever way you look at it, the decision by the Prime Minister to water down some of the UK’s net zero policies — although not unexpected — has caused confusion and uncertainty in the industry. It has also thrown a spanner in the works for some companies, particularly as they’ve spent time and money to meet the initial 2030 deadline. 

While the UK government's proposed changes in the EV timetable will not change their commitment to decarbonisation, it may put the brakes on a lot of the good work done so far, with more than eight in ten now reconsidering or slowing down their net zero plans.

The good news is that those who have already invested in technology and IoT platforms to manage their transition to EV fleets will be better off. These connected data platforms — which were being used to identify which routes, vehicles and tasks are best suited to the electrification of their fleets — are just as adept at overseeing multi-fuel fleets. 

Let’s be clear, though. While the debate still rages on net zero targets, fleet managers are still faced with the daily uphill task of ensuring goods are moved from A to B, supermarket shelves remain fully stocked, and the wheels of the economy — upon which we all depend — continue to go around. Fleets already do an important and difficult job. The uncertainty around the transition to EVs is not helping. What they need is clarity in the confusion. 


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