Rocket Boosted Retrofit – or Bust?

By Rod McKenzie, Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the RHA

Next year TfL will introduce an “Ultra Low Emission Zone” or ULEZ in central London where all vehicles will have to meet much tighter exhaust emission standards to travel without charge.  Clean Air Zones will follow shortly afterwards in Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Southampton and Derby and a further 20-plus authorities are developing plans.

It’s a juggernaut driven by Client Earth’s successful court case against the Government for going too slowly on Clean Air plans.

The RHA has continually argued for a better phasing of charges – especially when it comes to Euro V vehicles, bought in good faith in the early 2010’s with an expected 12 year lifespan.  Put simply: give fleets more time to upgrade to Euro VI.

Government guidance says retrofit options are available for these vehicles, and local authorities keep saying to us – and to operators – that this is an option.

So let’s do an RHA truth-check on that claim.

What is it?  
Retrofit equipment would enable older lorries to be fitted with a Selective Catalytic Reduction kit which cleans tail pipe emissions sufficiently to meet Euro VI standards.  The bus sector is doing this now.

But no retrofit kit is yet available for any lorry.  If the gear becomes, available it will probably cost between £15,000 and £20,000 per lorry – probably more if a telematics fix is required.

So no retrofit is currently available for the lorry trade, and if it was available, it would be prohibitively expensive to many fleets.

Due to the insistence of Euro VI standard only for clean air zones, those vehicles have become very expensive on the second hand market while Euro Vs have suffered a correspondent price drop.

Many operators therefore can’t afford either a second hand Euro VI – or to either sell or upgrade through retrofit their existing Euro V.

What we're doing about it
The RHA is demanding that a phased approach is allowed as there aren’t enough Euro VI lorries to meet current needs therefore Euro V lorries at the very least must be allowed into clean air zones without charge for the next several years.

Where a charging CAZ is implemented we believe that “intelligent phased charging” should be used with Euro V either not charged at all or charged at a very low level until they are 12 years old to allow the sector to upgrade.  Help should also be given to operators to make this upgrade more affordable.

At a time of great economic uncertainty – it is the utmost folly to penalise the industry that moves food, essential material and all the other goods that are crucial for a successful economy.  Unchecked, these measures risk driving SME operators who operate on low margins out of business.  That’s a high price to pay for a very marginal increase in air quality – not least when retrofit is very far from the silver bullet more like a misfiring blank.

So please, local authorities and others, take our industry out of your gunsights.