On February 19, 2019, the European Parliament and the European Council stroke a deal to reduce carbon emissions of heavy-duty vehicles. As of today, heavy vehicles account for over 25% of the road carbon emissions in the European Union (EU). Some efficient alternatives exist and could be easier to implement in the short term.
This first EU-wide legally binding agreement creates a target of 30% CO2 reduction for new trucks by 2030, and 15% by 2025. Furthermore, automotive manufacturers will have to ensure that zero- and low-emission vehicles account for at least 2% of new vehicles sales by 2025. This rather ambitious plan also shows that the EU remains far from its 1990 and 2005 objectives. The deal will still need to be formally ratified by the European Parliament’s Environment Council, and later by the European Council. However, it’s unlikely we’ll see any major change in the agreement.
Implementing the agreement, however, will be the main issue. As road transportation is excluded from the EU carbon emission trading system, member countries will be responsible for the implementation, while relying on the effort-sharing legislation, and a monitoring system at the EU level. Although this can be tricky as there is no binding enforcement mechanism in place. In the meantime, the scarcity of the existing infrastructures for environmental-friendly trucks, such as charging stations, along with high energy costs, mean that road freight will likely experience a short-term slowdown during the implementation process.
But the good news is there are ways to reduce carbon emissions, ones that don’t target truck manufacturers exclusively. However, these solutions tend to be sidelined because member states contest their value, and the EU narrowed their scope of application.
Firstly, the increase of the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) is a serious option. While it remains limited to 40T in many countries like Germany, the Netherlands has already increased it to 48T. Then, the extension of road combinations such as Mega trailers (25m long and 60T GVWR) has been a success in Sweden and the Netherlands. It should certainly encourage countries like France to test pilot corridors. Eventually, platooning (convoy of trucks following one lead truck) can reduce the average consumption by at least 7%. Although the technology has been ready for 10 years, its deployment remains limited to only a few European countries.
Furthermore, a better information-sharing and exchange system would also contribute to reducing the energy bill. Low transparency in the ground transportation market creates productivity losses and generates non-revenue kilometers, meaning trucks are on average about 20% empty. Again, a functioning EU level enforcement mechanism would certainly improve the level of information-sharing.
This newly reached agreement shows the EU’s commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction. But one should expect a bumpy road ahead.