Set 2035 deadline for zero-emission trucks, major fleet managers urge EU lawmakers

Image: Tevva

More than 40 members of the Climate Group’s EV100 coalition have signed an open letter to the European Commission’s members this week, floating the idea. Among the recipients are Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the EU’s climate chief Frans Timmermans.

The Commission is set to propose new targets for carbon emissions from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in early 2023, and the EV100 initiative has heard evidence that policymakers are considering a 2040 deadline for ending the sale of all new trucks which are not zero-emission.

“Despite accounting for just 2% of vehicles on European roads, heavy-duty trucks are responsible for over a quarter of the EU’s road transport emissions,” the letter explains.

“The technologies to decarbonise trucking and tackle harmful air pollution are already here. A 2035 zero-emissions target for new freight trucks would provide investment certainty for vehicle manufacturers, and ensure the replacement of fossil-powered truck fleets in time for the EU to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

“An ambitious review of the HDV CO2 emission standards is crucial if Europe is serious about leaning up trucking and maintaining its industrial leadership in the commercial vehicle sector.”

In addition to the climate benefits of switching to zero-emission alternatives, such as electric vehicles (EVs), the letter emphasises the importance of reducing air pollution from HGVs.

The letter recommends that the EU Commission should require all new freight trucks sold in European markets to be zero-emission by 2035. Given that most trucks are operational for more than 18 years, it states that a 2040 date would likely be incompatible with the bloc’s 2050 climate-neutrality target. It does add that a 2040 extension could be implemented for some niche models of truck.

Also recommended is an increase to the Commission’s 2030 target for truckmakers, which is currently that emissions resulting from vehicle use should be halved. The letter’s signatories want the target set at 65% and measures implemented to ensure accountability. Among these measures are a target for a 30% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2027, and the extension of requirements from trailers to lorries, buses, coaches and other vocational vehicles.

The letter states that the upcoming changes to HGV emissions standards will “mark a defining moment for the European road freight sector”, determining how rapid the transition away from fossil HGVs will be.

“We call on the European Commission to show leadership for the sake of Europe’s industrial competitiveness and climate-neutral future,” it concludes.

Companies from across the HGV value chain have signed, including retailers, consumer goods companies, truck manufacturers and logistics providers. Among the signatories are FMCG firms Unilever, Henkel, Oatly and PepsiCo; logistics majors Royal Mail, van der Wal, DFDS and APL Logistics; electronics retailer Currys and cleantech manufacturers Tevva, Vattenfall and Fastned.

All EV100 members are committed to 100% zero-emission medium HGVs by 2035 and 100% zero-emission large HGVs by 2040, globally.

Explaining why Unilever signed the letter, the firm’s vice-president for global logistics and fulfillment Michelle Grose said: “Decarbonising our logistics is crucial to reaching our 2039 net zero goal. As a cargo owner, we’ve made some great progress on limiting our emissions through critical efficiencies and reducing how many trucks we have on the road, but as an industry we can do more. Together with our EV100+ partners, we’re sending a powerful signal to the European Commission, and the wider industry, to set all new freight trucks on a path to zero emissions from 2035 onwards.”

Infrastructure challenges ahead 

The letter acknowledges that simply changing the rules around which vehicles automakers are allowed to sell will not be sufficient; the Commission will also need to bring forward measures to support the scaling of refuelling and recharging infrastructure for alternatively-powered HGVs.

It argues that when the European Commission reviews the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation – a move that is due to happen in 2024 – it can set targets for infrastructure financing and build-out that are in line with the expected market uptake of electric trucks and hydrogen trucks. The letter argues that the review should be concluded: “as fast as possible”.

On electric charging points, McKinsey estimates that Europe hosted some 375,000 public charging stations in 2021 but that this number will need to exceed 3.4 million by 2030. It warned that the bloc is not only prepared for this level of uptake, but not planning for the necessary grid upgrades to support the build-out.

On hydrogen, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) is predicting that at least 60,000 hydrogen fuel fell trucks will be on operation by 2030. It has recommended the creation of 300 truck-suitable hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025 and a further 700+ by 2030.

Another issue covered in the EV100 letter is the upfront cost of zero-emission HGVs at present. The signatories acknowledge that, while many among them are large fleet operators, SMEs will likely need “targeted financial support” to invest in new HGVs.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie