Truck makers gear up to go fossil-free by 2040, but EU and member states need to step up their game

At the end of 2020, Europe’s truck manufacturers made history when they agreed that by 2040 all new trucks sold have to be fossil-free to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. This year their priority is to work with EU policymakers to start paving the way for carbon-neutral road transport. Because regardless of how ambitious our industry is, we cannot make the radical and unprecedented shift to zero-emission trucks without the right policy and enablers in place.

Message from ACEA’s Director General – January 2021

When all major European truck makers committed to this science-backed statement just before Christmas, they did this under the umbrella of ACEA of course. So, for me it was great to see that when the CEOs of those seven companies elected the new Chair of ACEA’s Commercial Vehicle Board for 2021, that commitment was even further strengthened.

After taking on his new role, Martin Daum, who is also CEO of Daimler Truck AG, immediately made clear that “climate change is at the top of the agenda of the commercial vehicle industry as the most fundamental challenge for humanity and the global economy.” More specifically, Mr Daum unambiguously confirmed that the truck’s industry ultimate goal is to have a fully CO2-neutral road freight sector by 2050.

Climate change is at the top of the agenda of the commercial vehicle industry as the most fundamental challenge for humanity and the global economy.

But as Daum cautioned, this “transformation of our sector to carbon neutrality will be unprecedented, both in speed and scale.” Indeed, the renewal of Europe’s truck fleet needs to be supported and incentivised by the European Union as it takes the average transport company about 10 years to completely renew its fleet.

What is more, almost 98% of the 6.2 million trucks currently operating on European roads run on diesel. Zero-emission vehicles, on the other hand, only account for 0.04% of the total truck fleet right now, or a mere 2,300 vehicles. On top of that, the latest figures show that the age of the EU truck fleet keeps increasing year after year. Trucks are now 13 years old in the European Union on average. Aged more than 21 years, Greece has the oldest truck fleet of the whole EU. With the objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 in mind, this means we cannot waste another minute.

In order to identify the right pathways to cut emissions as efficiently and fast as possible, ACEA’s truck members are putting their trust in science. That is why we joined forces with leading experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), as they cannot only help truck makers to take science-based decisions, but also provide guidance to EU policymakers, national governments and other stakeholders on the necessary policy measures.

From a product perspective, every single European truck manufacturer is making huge investments to bring more zero-emission trucks to the market, and over just the next few years all of them will rapidly increase their offer of zero-emission vehicles. Indeed, Europe’s major truck companies can, and are already beginning to, deliver the required supply of zero-emission vehicles. Yet I believe it is important to reiterate that this alone will not be enough.

If we really want to cut emissions fast, we need the right enabling framework and enough infrastructure to also address the demand side of this challenge. Policymakers have a big role to play in ensuring that professional transport operators can profitably operate zero-emission vehicles.

Policymakers have a big role to play in ensuring that professional transport operators can profitably operate zero-emission vehicles.

Now is the time for policymakers, at both EU and member state level, to step up their game and match the ambition level of the truck industry. Looking at the medium-term CO2 targets, however, we already see that Europe’s ambitions are still far off from what we need in reality. For example, European truck makers estimate that roughly 200,000 zero-emission trucks will be in operation by 2030 in order to meet the -30% CO2 target for heavy-duty trucks set for that year. This will put us well on track to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.

It also means that in the space of under 10 years, Europe will have to see a staggering 100-fold increase in the number of zero-emission trucks on the road – given that we only have 2,300 of them now, as I mentioned before. Surprisingly enough, the European Commission recently laid out plans to have some 80,000 zero-emission trucks by 2030. This clearly falls far short of what is required by their own CO2 regulation.

To make zero-emission trucks the preferred choice of transport operators, and support our industry in the shift to fossil-free trucking by 2040, the European Union and national governments really need to take urgent action. Truck manufacturers stand ready to work together with all stakeholders to help establish the key enabling conditions that are urgently required.

First of all, a successful market uptake of zero-emission trucks will only happen if a sufficiently dense network of charging points and hydrogen stations is rolled out rapidly. The commitment of policymakers to infrastructure must really start to match the ambition level of the CO2 targets they set for our industry. This will require coordinated action and massive investments, supported by public funding. Of course, truck makers are keen to support this infrastructure roll‐out by collaborating with public and private stakeholders.

In addition to truck-suitable infrastructure, Europe also really needs a coherent policy framework that enables and drives the transition to carbon neutrality. In other words, we need policy makers’ commitment to making zero‐emission vehicles the best option and preferred choice for transport operators as soon as possible. Although efficiency gains and cost reductions can be expected over the coming years, they alone will not be sufficient to shift the total costs of ownership towards zero-emission vehicles.

As part of a broader approach, looking at all aspects of a well‐to‐wheel perspective and in line with science, an ambitious carbon price – which gradually increases to significantly higher levels than today – is crucial to drive the deployment of zero‐emission trucks and properly incorporate the total costs of CO2 emissions. Several policy options should be assessed, such as including road transport in the EU emissions trading system (ETS), establishing CO2-based road charges (as part of the Eurovignette system, for example) and energy taxation based on the carbon and energy content of fuels. We cannot be clear enough to note that a broad market uptake of zero‐emission vehicles can only be expected if the carbon content of all energy carriers and CO2 emissions is priced appropriately.

Zero‐emission vehicles will not only bring down CO2 emissions, they will also improve air quality levels fast.

Driving the decarbonisation of road freight transport requires an unprecedented transformation, massive investments and a clear focus. Zero‐emission vehicles will not only bring down CO2 emissions, they will also improve air quality levels fast. I therefore strongly believe that any regulatory constraints which may hinder or delay the design, construction or deployment of zero‐emission vehicles must be identified and removed as swiftly as possible by policymakers.

As you can tell, European truck manufacturers are ready to lead the transition of transport and logistics to carbon neutrality. All stakeholders and partners in transport and logistics are invited to join this process. Together we have to live up to the ambition required to bend the emissions curve now in the most sustainable way for society as a whole.

Eric-Mark Huitema
Director General of ACEA

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