Policy-makers and industry try to close the gap on truck emissions at ETF 2018

How clean should heavy-duty trucks be? This was the crunch question that EU policy-makers and industry leaders addressed at this year’s European Transport Forum (ETF), held in Brussels on September 25.

The ETF, held at the city’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts, is particularly timely: MEPs are set to have their first vote on October 18 on the European Commission’s proposals to cut truck carbon dioxide emissions by 15% by 2025. However, Romanian MEP Adina-Ioana Vălean, who chairs the Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety that is scrutinising the proposals, warned that it might not be agreed in time before the Parliament breaks up next year for the elections. “The legislation came too late: we do not have enough time,” she said.

Vălean said that 420 amendments will be crunched on the voting day, and most of them will aim to go further than the Commission. “Any figure put forward by the Commission will be doubled with ambition with a big ‘A’,” she said, while adding that such ambition would be futile if cleaner technologies are simply not available. “This whole legislation will have no point if it has no incentives,” she said.

There were also warnings from truck-makers, including Volvo Group, which has been pioneering many cleaner technologies. Rolf Willkrans, Volvo Group’s Director of Environmental Affairs said that while the industry backed cleaner engines, it also needed to build affordable vehicles. “The most important thing is to make new vehicles good business for the operators. We need to ensure the costs do not outweigh benefits,” he said. “If it was so easy for the fuel savings to outweigh the costs, we would have done it many years ago.”

Willkrans urged the EU to think of other measures to reduce emissions, including the European Modular System (EMS), where different loading units can be combined to carry more at a greater level of fuel efficiency. “Longer and heavier vehicles would get us to 15% immediately”, he said.

Alexandre Paquot, who heads the Road Transport Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Climate Action, said the 15% target could be met by 2025 using existing technologies. “We made a detailed analysis with stakeholders. What came out from our analysis is that it is not electrification or other futuristic technologies, but simple technologies that will help us meet 15%”, he said. “We are really looking at what is feasible and cost effective for operators.” Paquot denied that the legislation unduly favoured electrification, insisting that, “We have no particular religion for technology….it is fully up to manufacturers to decide how to meet targets.”

But there was also caution from the hauliers, represented by Frank Verhoeven, the CEO of Vos Logistics, which has a fleet of 1,200 trucks. While he backed clean and efficient transport, he said his customers were making choices on the basis of cost. “If we, as a society, want emissions-free transport, we have to decide how to do it”, he said. “It comes from the wallet”. Verhoeven said he had studied a variety of marginal measures to reduce emissions, including tyre pressure, aerodynamics and driving styles – and with 35% of trucks currently running empty through Europe, one of the biggest steps would be to manage loads better.

John Cooper, the Director-General of refining industry association Fuels Europe, said that although battery power was improving fast, it was too soon to ditch fossil fuels. “We have found that hydrocarbon chemistry is the most efficient way of storing energy on earth”, he said. He urged policy makers to take a step-wise approach to reducing emissions, so that battery or hybrid technologies can be introduced gradually.