Cutting CO2 from trucks: urgent need to invest in recharging and refuelling infrastructure across EU

Later this week, EU member states are expected to adopt their common position on the EU’s first-ever CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles. Ahead of that Council meeting, I would like to call on the 28 national governments to strike the right balance between environmental objectives and the competitiveness of Europe’s truck industry.

Message from ACEA's Secretary General – December 2018

It goes without saying that manufacturers of heavy-duty vehicles recognise the need to do more to further reduce CO2 emissions. This is also something that tops the political agenda these days, both at the international and European level.

Last Saturday, almost 200 governments from around the world agreed on rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement at the COP24 climate change conference in Poland. And at the end of November, the European Commission adopted its long-term strategic vision called ‘A Clean Planet for All’, setting out the steps required for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050.

In this vision the Commission emphasises that the EU should innovate and invest in “realistic technological solutions” and has to align key policy areas such as industry and research in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. But while these initiatives focus on long-term goals for the next three decades, at the EU level we are currently also dealing with the short-term truck CO2 reduction targets for the years 2025 and 2030.

Last May, the Commission proposed these first CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles in Europe. Ever since then, the legislative process has been going at an unprecedented speed for a discussion that is very complex and technical. The European Parliament voted on this file last month and the Council is currently negotiating a common position.

As the discussions heat up at the national level, ACEA is concerned that there is a general misperception that our industry stands in opposition to the introduction of these CO2 emission standards for the truck sector. This is simply not true. We are not fighting against the regulation.

What we are fighting for is a well-balanced CO2 regulation. One that enables and supports the truck industry to deliver the necessary CO2 reductions, without losing sight of customers’ needs or the competitiveness of the industry. The CO2 standards proposed by the Commission – minus 15% in 2025 and minus 30% in 2030 – set a path towards reaching the Paris Climate Agreement objectives.

However, these CO2 reduction levels are highly ambitious and will not be achievable with existing technologies alone. It will require the rapid and large-scale deployment of new powertrain technologies – many of which are not yet readily available for market introduction – across all vehicle segments: long-haul, regional and urban delivery.

Although electrification currently is the focal point of many discussions, we should expand our horizon to also include other alternatively-powered vehicles, such as trucks running on LNG or biofuels. At the end of the day, policy should not dictate technology choice – it is the result that matters.

While using electrical power for a delivery truck operating in urban environments can make sense, a scenario where electric is the right choice for a 40-tonne long-haul truck operating between Spain and Poland, for example, is much less likely in the mid-term, or even in the long run. This means that, to meet the CO2 targets, an extremely high proportion of medium-sized urban and regional delivery trucks will already have to be zero-emission ones in a few years from now.

Whatever the vehicle segment, a stronger market uptake of alternatively-powered trucks requires some basic prerequisites to be in place – many of which are outside the control of our industry. And here I’m thinking for instance of adequate investments in recharging and refuelling infrastructure, as well as rapid fleet renewal by transport operators. This is not a small task.

Indeed, the required charging infrastructure for electric trucks is not the same as that used for electric cars.  If an electric heavy-duty truck was to use electric car infrastructure, it could take days to recharge! The issue is that the required infrastructure suitable for trucks is simply not available today. To replace diesel in the long-haul segment, electricity needs to be available in sufficient quantities along all major routes in Europe at all times.

Even more, the spaces alongside motorways for trucks to park while recharging are also lacking. Indeed – as many transport operators know very well – there are already insufficient parking spaces available today to meet the requirements of the Working Time Directive. And in urban logistics, fleet owners have to take care of the charging facilities on their premises by themselves – including the financing!

ACEA supports the European Commission’s idea of introducing specific incentives to stimulate innovation and the uptake of alternatively-powered trucks. In this respect, we welcome the introduction of a super-credit system to encourage the widest possible deployment of low- and zero-emission vehicles

However, truck makers are very concerned with discussions about an alternative benchmark system that includes a ‘malus’, which would penalise manufacturers who do not sell a mandatory quota of zero- and low-emission trucks. With all the obstacles zero-emission vehicles face – such as the lack of suitable infrastructure, loss of payload, loss of range and higher costs – we must ask ourselves: “What happens if customers simply choose not to buy these trucks?”

Policy makers need to be aware that forcing manufacturers to provide a certain supply of zero-emission vehicles when there is insufficient market demand would be extremely risky for Europe’s truck industry. ACEA agrees with the need for an interim review of the indicative 2030 CO2 target in 2022, as proposed by the Commission. However, based on this review, it should be possible to adjust the 2030 target upwards or downwards in order to reflect the realities of the heavy-duty vehicle market at that point in time, driven by factual data.

This review should, for example, take into account the availability of refuelling and charging infrastructure for alternatively-powered trucks, as well as the market uptake of such vehicles, which are all unknown at this point. Likewise, ACEA believes that any CO2 target must be reviewed in light of potential new Euro standards in the future, since reducing pollutant emissions requires conflicting measures to reducing CO2.

Let me conclude by reiterating that there is no doubt that climate change is a fundamental challenge, requiring efforts to cut CO2 emissions from all sectors. The EU truck industry is fully committed to doing its part. At the same time, however, ACEA calls on policy makers to adopt a well-balanced and viable approach to the new truck CO2 standards, as this piece of legislation will have a huge impact on the future of Europe’s heavy-duty vehicle industry.

Erik Jonnaert
Secretary General of ACEA