Vehicle manufacturers, fuel companies, and other industry bodies have warned lawmakers that banning the sale of combustion engine lorries and buses too early could imperil Europe’s road freight industry.
Industry groups have mounted a communications push ahead of the release of new EU CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles on Tuesday (14 February), hoping to influence the emission targets.
A recent industry-penned open letter encourages policymakers to consider combustion engine technology as compatible with EU climate targets, so long as fossil fuels are substituted with low-carbon and net-zero liquid fuels, such as biofuels and e-fuels.
In contrast, green campaigners are urging the Commission to phase out the sale of combustion engine lorries as quickly as possible, favouring an industry-wide switch to electric and green hydrogen power trains.
Heavy-duty vehicles make up around 2% of traffic on European roads and are responsible for some 28% of road transport emissions.
For its part, the European Commission states that any technology that can meet the agreed emission standards is welcome. However, a 100% target is considered to represent a de facto ban on combustion engines.
Brussels has taken an increasingly firm stance on reducing road transport emissions, successfully pushing to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035.
While initially controversial, the Commission’s proposal was subsequently adopted by member states and European Parliament lawmakers in October of last year.
European Union legislators agreed to a deal late Thursday evening (27 October) requiring new cars and vans to be zero-emission as of 2035, a momentous agreement that sets Europe on a trajectory to a largely electric automotive future.
A leaked draft of the CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles obtained by EURACTIV suggests it is unlikely that the Commission will repeat its 2035 target, instead opting for a 2040 shift to 100% CO2-free tailpipe emissions at the earliest.
The leaked document leaves untouched the carbon emissions reduction targets for 2025 to 2029 and does not yet specify the necessary emissions reductions afterwards.
Clear battle lines have emerged between the fuel and road freight industries, which are pushing against a potential combustion engine curtailment, and environmental NGOs, which are lobbying the Commission to force a switch to clean vehicles by 2035 at the latest.
Lorries running on fossil fuels will continue to be allowed beyond 2035, with a potential phase-out coming in 2040 at the earliest, a draft proposal by the European Commission on revised CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles shows.
‘An unnecessary and risky experiment’
The International Road Transport Union (IRU), a group representing road freight operators, warned that the EU trucking sector is not yet ready to embrace full electrification.
“The vital logistics chains that supply EU citizens with food, medicine and other essentials should not be subject to an uncertain leap into the dark which could jeopardise their stability,” said Raluca Marian, the IRU’s EU advocacy director.
“A complete move away from combustion, notwithstanding that this too can achieve the same objective depending on what is burnt, can only be described as an unnecessary and risky experiment,” she added.
One of the chief concerns of industry is a lack of charging infrastructure across the bloc. Until ambitious charging point goals are secured legislatively, a mandated switch to clean trucks and buses would be too risky, it is argued.
Trade association the Advanced Biofuels Coalition LSB expressed concerns that moving against combustion engines would slow down investments into low-carbon fuels.
“It is essential for policy-makers to recognise the role of renewable fuels in the heavy duty sector in order to ensure certainty for advanced biofuel investments that will be needed for decades to come for the legacy fleet in the transport sector,” said Marko Janhunen, chair of the Advanced Biofuels Coalition and public affairs director at UPM.
If the Commission does not do so, the EU executive is “not acting according to the principle of technology neutrality,” he added.
In a joint statement, vehicle manufacturer trade body ACEA and auto parts manufacturers representative CLEPA argued that incentives should be given to encourage transport operators to invest in zero-emission vehicles rather than implementing bans.
This, they say, would help to build a “solid business case” for such vehicles.
The trade associations argue that in the context of soaring energy prices and the high cost of raw materials, “flexibility” is needed for the European truck industry to compete with the US and China.
Push for 2035 phase out
However, green NGO Transport & Environment said that the 18 year lifespan of trucks means that to meet EU climate targets, the sale of combustion engine trucks and buses must be halted by 2035.
Mandating a 100% CO2 reduction target would incentivise manufacturers and operators to invest in electric vehicles, bolstering the EU’s battery and clean vehicle production. A failure to do so would “deprive our nascent battery industry of investment certainty”.
“The big question for MEPs and governments is does this proposal keep the 2050 net-zero goal alive? Anything less than mandating zero emissions truck sales by 2035 would leave us with polluting diesel lorries still in the fleet by mid century,” said Fedor Unterlohner, freight policy manager at T&E.