EU wants heavy trucks to reduce CO2 by 90% in 2040

While the European Parliament finally ratified on Tuesday in Strasbourg the agreement with the 27 member states to ban all sales of new cars and vans with a combustion engine beyond 2035, heavy trucks and buses were targeted a few hours later by the Commission.

They will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 90% in 2040, leaving a door open until 2050, when all vehicles will have to be zero-emission. The 10% of exempted trucks are for specific sectors like agriculture, military, and mining trucks, emergency vehicles, or refuse trucks. City buses will need to be zero-emission already by 2030.

Battery-electric or hydrogen

The European Commission wants to close the door gradually for sales of new polluting trucks and long-distance coaches by imposing a reduction of 45% (compared to 2019) by 2030, 65% by 2035, and 90% by 2040. The draft plan is now to be debated by the Parliament and the member states in the European Council to come to an agreement as they did for cars.

According to Frans Timmermans, vice-chairman and responsible for the Green Deal, there is no other way than to have nearly all transport on European roads be zero-emission in 2050.

Heavy road transport accounts for 6% of CO2 emissions in the EU today and cars for 15%. The technology allowed will be battery-electric, fuel cells on hydrogen, or combustion engines on hydrogen.

No applause heard

Neither the transport sector itself nor the environmental groups like Transport & Environment (T&E) are heard applauding the plans of the Commission. Too restricted to electric or hydrogen for one, too little too late for the other.

“Without more stringent targets, there will be a glut of polluting diesel trucks still on our roads for decades to come,” T&E says in a press release. The proposed 90% CO2 reduction target for truck makers virtually ensures that diesel freight trucks will still be on the road ten years later, in 2050. It urged MEPs and governments to set a 2035 zero-emissions deadline instead.

T&E says lawmakers should mandate a 65% cut in CO2 already in 2030 instead of the proposed date of 2035, as it is equivalent to the zero-emissions sales goals already announced by Daimler Truck and Volvo Trucks, two of the biggest manufacturers.

Truck makers and industry setting deadlines

According to T&E, “Daimler Truck has announced that up to 60% of its sales will be zero-emission vehicles in 2030, while Volvo Trucks has pledged 70% by the end of the decade. This translates to at least a -65% CO2 target when considering modest fuel efficiency improvements.”

And the environmentalists get support for the idea of stricter dates for banning ICE trucks from the transport sector and their clients. A business coalition of 45 companies called upon the EU Commission in an open letter already in December last year to ensure all new freight trucks are zero-emission from 2035.

Among them are big names like Unilever, Henkel, PepsiCo, Siemens, Maersk, and DFDS. The Danish shipping company DFDS puts its money where its mouth is and has already ordered 125 e-trucks from Volvo Trucks lately.

The truck makers are ramping up rapidly as demand is expected to explode in the following decades. Especially in the transport sector, investments in ‘greening’ the fleet are driven by cost-per-kilometer calculations. Several studies indicate that this will cause the transport sector to consider investing in zero-emission sooner than the target dates set by the EU.

Driven by the total cost of ownership

A study published in October 2022 by the Dutch technical research institute TNO about the possible uptake of zero-emission trucks to replace diesel in the coming years shows the battery-electric truck (BET) is the most cost-effective (only) option from 2030. Fuel cell trucks will play a more marginal role due to higher costs but will be used for the most extended trajectories.

By 2035, 99,8% of the fleet of all urban, regional delivery, and long haul trucks could be replaced if manufacturers and charging infrastructure can keep up the pace. The study ordered by NGOs Transport & Environment (T&E) and Agora Verkehrswende confirms the findings of a PwC report published just a few weeks before.

The latter states that battery electric trucks (BET) are expected to outperform classic diesel trucks with an internal combustion engine (ICE) from 2025 onward in the total cost of ownership (TCO). Fuel cell trucks (FCT) are to reach that point in 2030, while the cost advantage for the battery-electric truck will be 26 to 34%, a new study by PwC states.







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