The steady shift to low emission trucks and buses

Trucks and buses account for less than 5% of all vehicles on the road in Europe but are responsible for around a quarter of road transport’s greenhouse gas emissions. Their image is often that of the dirty wheels on the road. Yet heavy duty vehicles are slowly moving to cut their emissions in Europe.

The European Commission voted to table a plan for a 15% cut in so-called heavy-duty trucks’ carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 and a 30% cut by 2030. It would fill a gap in the European Union’s transport and environment legislation: unlike other countries such as the United States, China, Japan and Canada, the EU has no limits on CO2emissions from trucks.

Such a measure would certainly fit into the EU’s moves to combat climate change. The bloc is moving to curb greenhouse gas emissions from transport as part of a drive to cut emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Cars and vans already face a limit of 95g/km of CO2by 2021 and the Commission last year proposed tougher emissions limits for 2030.

And it would complement new measures agreed this March to monitor and report CO2emissions applying to new heavy–duty vehicles registered in the EU. The main objective of these rules is to ensure the accuracy of CO2emissions reporting and provide the basis for setting and enforcing standards on carbon emissions in the future.

Data collected by national authorities will be entered into a central EU register and made available publicly so that freight operators can make better informed decisions about which truck to buy. The Commission says the new rules will allow vehicle operators to “take well-informed purchasing decisions and save on fuel costs.” It will make the data public via a register managed by the European Environment Agency.

There is a clear need to address heavy duty vehicles in the EU’s overall climate change policy. The Commission says that freight transport demand, and hence fuel consumption, will grow by some 60% from 2010 to 2050. Freight transport operators – mainly SMEs or micro enterprises – can experience fuel costs representing over a quarter of their total operational costs.

At the same time, EU truck makers face increasing global competition as markets such as the United States, Canada, Japan and China have in recent years implemented regulatory measures to improve heavy-duty vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce fuel bills.

There is competition in another form. Chinese heavy duty vehicle manufacturers are cranking up their production of electric trucks and buses, and not just in China. China has heavily invested in electric mobility to solve its own air quality problem and is now increasingly pushing into the next generation mobility market in Europe. They have built production networks in Europe and are winning pure electric car and bus tenders in cities like Turin, Amsterdam and London.

All these moves are likely to push European manufacturers to work even harder to switch to low or zero emission. And the signs are that they are rising to the challenge.