Across India, trucks and heavy commercial vehicles are far outnumbered by two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and passenger cars. But when it comes to the health and environmental impacts of India’s transport sector, it is a different equation. Though constituting only 5% of India’s on-road fleet, Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) like trucks and buses account for 70 per cent of fuel consumption, and over 70 per cent of particulate matter emissions, with significant health consequences. In 2015, there was an estimated USD 20 billion (~INR 128 crore) loss in health damages and 74,000 deaths across India caused by transportation-sector pollution – with over 66 per cent attributable to on-road diesel vehicles such as heavy-duty trucks.

In decarbonising the heavy-duty truck fleet, India has a strategic opportunity to improve air quality and address health impacts in tandem with other national priorities around energy security and industrial competitiveness. Ahead of COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change conference, setting targets for Zero-Emission Commercial Vehicle (ZECV) deployment that include HDVs can also help India achieve its climate goals established under the Paris Agreement.

India is beginning to make progress along the path to ZECV deployment. At the central government level, phase 2 of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles policy (FAME II) is fostering a supportive ecosystem for ZECV deployment, by stimulating demand for zero-emission vehicle purchases, and investing in charging infrastructure, with an emphasis on buses and light-duty commercial vehicles such as 3 and 4-wheelers. Several state governments have set ambitious targets of their own for EV deployment and fleet decarbonisation. The business community has also demonstrated leadership, with e-commerce giant Flipkart committing to a 100 per cent zero-emission fleet by 2030, and automotive start-up Euler Motors partnering with 20 e-commerce companies, to deploy over 200 EVs and 100 charging stations for last-mile delivery in Delhi.

While focused on light-duty commercial vehicles, these efforts reflect the logic of fleet-based approaches to commercial vehicle electrification and decarbonisation, and a pathway for zero-emission HDV deployment. Because different vehicle applications use similar components – such as powertrains, batteries, and power electronics – progress in early-success applications, in particular buses, will lead to further technological development and transfer to other vehicle segments as components mature, volumes grow, and costs decrease. However, rapid ZECV deployment will only happen if existing barriers – higher upfront cost and a lack of model availability, enabling policies, infrastructure, and fleet awareness – are tackled through supportive ecosystems of aligned policies, incentives, infrastructure investments, and pilot projects.

India’s FAME II programme, and other central and state-level policies, are creating the supportive ecosystem required for success for some vehicle applications. On a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) basis, electric two and three-wheelers are economically competitive with their Internal-Combustion Engine (ICE) counterparts, as are electric cars used in commercial fleet applications. As these vehicle segments grow in market share, policies and incentives should target zero-emission HDVs. Supply-side sales targets can foster innovation by requiring OEMs to produce zero-emission truck models, while demand-side purchase incentives can bring down costs for fleet owners. As is currently the case for lighter-duty vehicles, state- and city-level policy can also help attract and support manufacturing capacity, reduce or exempt taxes and fees, and target infrastructure investments to accelerate zero-emission HDV deployment. With a growing number of zero-emission buses, delivery vehicles, and other commercial fleet vehicles entering service and decreasing in cost, India should be proactive in extending support for zero-emission trucks and other heavy-duty commercial vehicles.

As the global market for zero-emission HDVs grows, India’s truck manufacturing sector must remain competitive. Other nations are already investing heavily. In Shenzhen, China, around 35 per cent of all logistics vehicles are now electric. California’s recent Advanced Clean Truck rule requires 75 per cent of all new urban delivery trucks and vans to be zero emissions by 2035. The Netherlands requires its 30-40 largest cities to introduce zero-emission zones for city logistics by 2025, restricting urban freight and delivery to zero-emission vehicles. International initiatives such as CALSTART’s Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero programme aim to accelerate the market for zero-emission commercial vehicles by fostering international alignment across major vehicle markets. At the recent 11th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) meeting, Drive to Zero was adopted as an official CEM campaign, and nine CEM member nations committed to work collaboratively to grow zero-emission commercial vehicle manufacturing, infrastructure and deployment at home and globally. As a CEM member, India can join these leading nations in adopting ambitious yet achievable, and increasingly important, goals for ZECV deployment.