Cutting CO2 emissions from vans: A whole different world

Next month, on Tuesday 10 July to be precise, the European Parliament’s Committees on industry (ITRE) and transport (TRAN), will each cast key votes on the European Commission’s proposal for future CO2 targets for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, the latter better known as vans or LCVs. While the Commission’s proposal for post-2021 CO2 targets deals with cars and vans without much differentiation, these two vehicle segments are in fact worlds apart.

Message from ACEA's Secretary General – June 2018

When it comes to further reducing CO2 emissions from road transport, the situation for vans is completely different to that for passenger cars. Although vans sometimes share certain parts (such as engines and transmissions) with cars, they still have very different engine calibrations and aftertreatment systems. This is because vans carry a greater payload than cars, requiring more towing capacity and better climbing ability. In addition, the possibilities for optimising the aerodynamics of vans are also fairly limited.

Moreover, some technological solutions to reduce CO2 emissions from cars are not applicable to LCVs, and the lower production volumes of vans do not allow for the same economies of scale. The margin of improvement for vans is also lower, both in terms of their longer development and production cycles as well as the limited uptake of alternatively-powered LCVs.

Vans are of course first and foremost business tools, playing a key role in the logistics chain. Especially for SMEs, vans are essential tools that help them to get their job done. Unlike cars, the price sensitivity of LCVs is extremely high, with purchasing and operating costs being the number one decision factor, especially given that van users operate on tight margins. Small businesses have less flexibility in this respect, as they often simply cannot afford costly new technologies. This also explains why consumer acceptance of more expensive hybrid and electrified vans has been poor to date.

Customers will only consider purchasing alternatively-powered LCVs if their cost and productivity are comparable to those of vans with conventional engines. After all, businesses are just not willing to sacrifice payload for lower fuel consumption. Given the limited range of electrically-chargeable vans and their long charging times, such vehicles are generally only used for city centre distribution or other relatively short distances.

That is also why diesel vehicles continue to make up more than 96% of the new van fleet. Hence, the CO2 ambition level for vans should be significantly lower than the post-2021 targets set for passenger cars. Moreover, given that the electrification potential of LCVs is much lower than cars, the 2030 low-emission vehicle benchmark proposed by the Commission should also be lowered for vans.

As the development and production cycles of light commercial vehicles are much longer than those of passenger cars (15 years versus 11 years), LCVs to be sold in 2025 are already being developed right now. A 2025 CO2 target would therefore simply not leave enough time to make the required changes. That is why it makes more sense to focus on an ambitious, but realistic, 2030 target instead.

For cars the main variable is the number of people to be transported. A light commercial vehicle, however, might be used for very different purposes and at very different degrees of intensity. The same van used by a shop owner for delivering flowers to inner-city customers, might be used by another operator for transporting heavy furniture between Madrid and Hamburg. So, not every powertrain is ideal for all tasks, and in each case the most suitable option will differ. The LCV market is very complex: there is simply no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach possible.

However, as I already explained earlier on, the European Commission’s proposal for post-2021 CO2 deals with passenger cars and vans without much differentiation, instead of addressing the specific situation of the LCV segment. For example, the transfer of credits between the car and van segments, as well as between manufacturers, should be made possible. From an environmental point of view, it makes no difference if CO2 is reduced by cars or by vans, but it would help to reduce compliance costs for manufacturers.

As batteries can take up a lot of space, electrifying vans often conflicts with the commercial mission of these vehicles, which requires a maximum payload. Moreover, batteries also have a big impact on the curb weight of an LCV. That is why vans (ie N1 vehicles) should remain part of their original category, even if the mass exceeds the maximum weight because of an alternative powertrain. Especially in the case of Class III vehicles (heavy LCVs), including battery weight almost automatically implies that the N1 definition threshold will be exceeded. So, battery weight should be either excluded from the reference mass of a van, or the threshold should be adjusted.

Special attention should also be paid to multi-stage vehicles (MSVs), which are completed by a body builder after leaving an LCV manufacturer’s factory. The switch to the new WLTP emissions test brought an end to the previous system which enabled automobile manufacturers to predict their CO2 fleet compliance. This puts them in a difficult position. MSVs represent a small share of the van segment, with around 10% of total registrations. Exempting them from the CO2 monitoring process would therefore have a negligible CO2 impact, but would greatly reduce the administrative burden on SMEs, public authorities and the auto industry.

Considering all of the above, I would like to reiterate ACEA’s call on policy makers to pay special attention to the specificities of the light commercial vehicle segment when setting future CO2 targets. Because in the end, these targets do not just affect us as an industry, but in the case of vans also the 23 million SMEs that power the EU economy.

Erik Jonnaert
Secretary General of ACEA