Zero-emission buses and trucks: cost parity and infrastructure are just as important as technology

Europe’s truck and bus makers are working hard to deliver carbon-neutral road transport. And while the industry is ramping up its offer of zero-emission vehicles, we need more than the right trucks and buses for a successful transition. Transport operators need to be able to easily charge or re-fuel their vehicles across the EU. Moreover, battery-electric and fuel-cell vehicles must also reach cost parity with diesel-fuelled ones soon in order for them to become operators’ preferred choice.

Message from ACEA's Director General – April 2021

Of course, developing the right vehicle technology is our industry’s responsibility. Truck and bus makers are investing a lot of money in low- and zero-emission vehicles right now, also because they believe this is the best way to significantly improve air quality.

As you will recall, at the end of last year the CEOs of Europe’s commercial vehicle manufacturers agreed that all new trucks sold must be fossil free by 2040 in order for the sector to be fully carbon-neutral by 2050 at the latest. Reliable and efficient battery‐electric trucks and buses are already available, with all manufacturers stepping up production over the next two to three years. These will immediately be followed by hydrogen‐powered vehicles. In other words, the range of zero‐emission options on offer will increase rapidly in the near future.

But regardless of how many different battery-electric or fuel-cell models our members make available, transport operators will not massively invest in them unless two other critical factors are properly addressed at EU level.

First of all, Europe urgently has to roll out an extensive network of charging and re-fuelling points that are specifically tailored to the needs of heavy-duty vehicles. The second key factor, which is often overlooked, is that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of zero-emission vehicles needs to match that of conventional ones before they will be sold on a large scale.

Reality shows that low- and zero-emission trucks and buses are still significantly more expensive today than conventional vehicles powered by fossil fuels, so they are simply not competitive enough yet in the market. Despite all ongoing efforts to minimise the TCO-gap, as well as making alternatively-powered vehicles more efficient to operate, manufacturers alone will not be able to close this gap in the foreseeable future.

To that end, EU policymakers must enable the market uptake of these vehicles through effective policy and coherent fiscal measures. Right now, for instance, it is important that they conclude the negotiations for the introduction of a CO2-based road toll for heavy goods vehicles, as part of the Eurovignette Directive, and explore all available options for disincentivising the use of fossil carbon fuels.

That is why ACEA is calling on the co-legislators involved in the EU trialogue negotiations for the revision of the Eurovignette Directive to reach an agreement on this important file under the current Portuguese EU Presidency. Indeed, as Martin Daum wrote on behalf of the European industry, the swift market uptake of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles will heavily depend on the final Eurovignette deal and its subsequent implementation by member states.

The introduction of an EU-wide road charging system for heavy goods vehicles, with the toll being differentiated based on the CO2 emissions of a particular vehicle, is urgently needed in order to help shift key cost factors. Such a system should be designed to effectively incentivise operators to choose zero- and low-emission trucks over conventional vehicles when renewing their fleet.

It is therefore important that the revised Eurovignette provides a full exemption from road charges for zero-emission trucks, well beyond 2025 and at least until 2030, in order to guarantee long-term predictability for transport operators. At the same time, a meaningful and effective differentiation of road charges between all vehicle classes is needed to drive the shift from day one; ranging from conventional trucks to the latest highly fuel-efficient and low-polluting ones, as well as zero-emission vehicles.

Indeed, for heavy goods vehicles the revision of the Eurovignette Directive is currently the most important legislative dossier. At ACEA we really count on the co-legislators to strike a swift deal on the Eurovignette before the Portuguese Presidency ends two months from now.

But even when we have the right fiscal measures in place to help zero-emission vehicles reach cost parity, there is another big piece of the puzzle still missing: charging and hydrogen re-fuelling points that are suitable for trucks and buses. Because let’s face it, transport operators will not invest in zero-emission vehicles unless they are absolutely confident they can charge and re-fuel them easily as they transport goods or people from one European country to another.

In this respect the upcoming review of Europe’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID) should be used to introduce binding infrastructure deployment targets for all member states. When we look at the map of Europe today, it quickly becomes clear that there are close to zero truck-specific charging stations available in the entire European Union.

This needs to change fast if Europe wants to achieve the goals of the EU Green Deal, and reach carbon-neutral road freight transport by 2050 at the latest. To underline the urgency and importance of a rapid infrastructure roll-out, ACEA joined forces with the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) earlier this month.

We jointly call on the European Commission and member states to guarantee that at least 11,000 charging points for electric trucks are deployed across the EU no later than 2025 and that his number increases to 42,000 by 2030. Moreover, 300 hydrogen re-fuelling pumps should be built by 2025, with infrastructure for fuel-cell vehicles further expanding to a thousand stations by 2030.

As the specific needs of heavy-duty vehicles are not addressed by the current AFID, it is of vital importance that the Commission makes sure that trucks and coaches (which are buses for long-distance travel) are an integral part of the binding infrastructure targets this time. As long as that doesn’t happen, professional transport operators will remain highly reluctant to trade their fossil-fuel vehicles in for battery-electric or fuel-cell models.

That is why the AFID review needs to ensure that charging and re-fuelling will be possible at truck and coach depots across the EU in the near future, as well as at logistics hubs, along Europe’s motorway network and at public sites in urban areas.

Europe’s bus and coach fleet is already in the midst of a revolution. EU manufacturers are developing pioneering solutions to help cities reduce congestion, pollution and noise. As Rudi Kuchta, the new Chair of ACEA’s Bus and Coach Committee, stressed: “E-mobility will be a key solution to achieve this, but requires the right charging infrastructure in the right places, such as urban nodes, airports and bus terminals.”

The latest figures show that electrically-chargeable buses made up 6.1% of total new registrations in the EU last year, and that hybrid electric buses almost doubled their market share, going from 4.8% to 9.5%. And while all alternatively-powered vehicles combined represented over a quarter of EU bus sales in 2020, 10% more than the year before, diesel-powered buses still held some 73% of the total market. Indeed, buses and coaches also need more dedicated infrastructure and stronger incentives in order to complete this revolution.

In a nutshell, we all need to be aware that the success of CO2-neutral road transport in Europe does not just depend on the technology that we put in our trucks and buses, but equally on deploying the right infrastructure and making a shift in the cost of ownership. Martin Daum explained it very well recently: “These three factors are linked like the factors in a multiplication problem. If just one factor is zero, the total result is zero. No matter how strong the other factors are.”

Knowing that zero-emission vehicles will also make a huge contribution to improving air quality, policymakers should take a pragmatic approach to a future Euro VII emission standard, allowing the industry to really focus on making the big leap to zero emissions instead of having to invest scarce resources in marginal improvements in the short term.

Europe’s truck and bus makers are fully committed to the Green Deal and want to reach carbon-neutral road freight transport by 2050 at the very latest. As recent industry commitments and product announcements prove, our members are investing massively in carbon-neutral trucks and buses. However, policymakers in Brussels and the national governments in our capitols need to address the other two key factors in parallel, because we cannot lose any time.

Eric-Mark Huitema
Director General of ACEA

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