April 19. 2024. 8:58

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EU transport policy: Hard on citizens, weak on industry?



Today, two major news items occurred in the EU’s transport policy, which is why our newsletter arrives as delayed as a German train.

First, the European Parliament gave its green light to the death of diesel and petrol cars, with a majority of lawmakers confirming the deal reached with EU countries and the European Commission in October last year.

The new law will set a reduction target for tailpipe CO2 emissions of 100%, which de-facto bans the use of the combustion engine.

In the second big news of the day, the Commission presented its proposal for new CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles, which shied away from a total ban on combustion engines for trucks and used a 90% target for 2040, rather than the 100% target that green NGOs have called for.

Trucks have so far not been covered by the combustion engine phase-out, and are therefore only subject to the new proposal presented today.

For city buses, the Commission wants to move much faster, and force manufacturers to only sell electric buses by 2030. However, this will only apply to cities – in rural areas, “buses for longer range transport will be treated like trucks”, Commission climate chief Frans Timmermans said.

Overall, the picture emerges that the Commission is hard on passengers (banning their beloved petrol cars and obliging their public transport operators to buy electric buses), but weaker when it comes to freight, where citizens are affected only indirectly and much stronger lobbies seem to be at work.

Timmermans forcefully rejected that impression, by pointing to “clearly objective differences” between cars and trucks.

“Cars don’t need to pull 20, 30, 40 tonnes up a mountain,” he told journalists, adding that “we’re reaching a number of tipping points” in the manufacturing of cars and city buses – but not for trucks.

Et cetera, et cetera

“There are very, very specific conditions pertaining to heavy transport that do not apply to buses, or to cars and vans,” Timmermans said.

Essentially, the Commission will therefore continue to allow combustion engine trucks to be sold beyond 2040, even if they emit CO2.

“If we reach climate neutrality in 2050, it doesn’t mean that we have absolutely no CO2 emissions anymore,” he said, adding that “hopefully, we also then have technologies in place that will actually be able to capture CO2 directly et cetera, et cetera”.

By “et cetera”, it can be assumed Timmermans is referring to the potential of negative emissions: land-use change that bets on plants removing the carbon emitted by diesel trucks from the atmosphere.

The climate chief emphasised that he does not view e-fuels, however, as part of the solution.

“I think we should be very careful to make sure that e-fuels are used where they are really needed, which is mainly in aviation, and we should not use them for road transport in any way or form,” he said.

“I think hydrogen will be the fuel used in heavy transport, both in terms of fuel cells, and in terms of internal combustion engines that will be refitted to use hydrogen as an energy source,” he continued.

Hydrogen is an energy ‘carrier’, not an energy source – meaning its environmental impacts depend on how it is produced. As such, recent months have seen extensive debates over which energy sources should be used in hydrogen production.

“Industry have [sic] already announced three technologies driving the shift to zero-emission: battery electric, fuel cell and hydrogen combustion,” a “Questions & Answers” document by the Commission reads.

Jan Werhold of the eFuel Alliance told EURACTIV: “According to the current Commission proposal, the limit for zero-emission HDV [Heavy-Duty Vehicles] is 5g/tkm [kilometres of tonnes transported]. Thus, the hydrogen combustion engine is classified as zero-emission.”

Unsurprisingly, his association is unhappy with the proposal, saying that it “does not take renewable fuels such as e-fuels into any account at all”.

Green NGOs, meanwhile, are equally unhappy, due to the lack of a 100% target.

So, after one and a half years of fighting about the combustion engine, welcome to the second round!


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Plug-in hybrids not as clean as advertised, tests find

For those who can’t decide whether to go all in on an electric vehicle (EV) or to stick with a petrol model, plug-in hybrids appear to offer a winning solution: They offer the low emissions of an EV coupled with the range and peace of mind of a combustion engine.

However, the environmental credentials of hybrids are increasingly questioned. Tests commissioned by the green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) found that hybrids pollute more than claimed by manufacturers when driven on typical commuter routes in cities.

T&E are pushing for national lawmakers to end subsidies to hybrid vehicles, instead classing them as a more polluting option than their full EV counterparts.

“Plug-in hybrids are sold as the perfect combination of a battery for all your local needs and an engine for long distances. But real-world testing shows this is a myth,” said Anna Krajinska, vehicle emissions manager at T&E.

“In city tests, just one of the plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) has the electric range advertised, while all three emit more than claimed in commuter driving. Lawmakers should treat PHEVs based on their actual emissions,” she added.

Three hybrid models were tested for the study: a BMW 3 Series, Peugeot 308, and Renault Megane. The report found that each emitted more CO2 than advertised, with the BMW polluting three times its official rating.

The Peugeot had 53% of its advertised electric range on a single charge, with only the Renault meeting the electric range claimed.

Companies are responsible for some 71% of hybrid sales, thanks in part to purchase incentives, with consumers making up the rest. T&E are pushing for governments to end subsidies for the hybrids as fleet vehicles and instead encourage the purchase of fully electric vehicles.


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

EU retains combustion engines for trucks with 90% CO2 reduction target

The European Commission has set a 90% carbon emissions reduction target for new heavy-duty vehicles by 2040, a move that keeps the door open for the sale of some combustion engine buses and trucks beyond that date.

EU Parliament gives green light to combustion engine ban for cars from 2035

A surprise deal struck by EU legislators early Wednesday morning (7 December) affirms that the tax on aviation carbon emissions will continue to apply only to flights within Europe, a blow to environmental campaigners who had lobbied for complete coverage.

EU Parliament gives green light to combustion engine ban from 2035

EU lawmakers in the European Parliament narrowly voted in favour of phasing out internal combustion vehicles in passenger transport from 2035, ensuring the political compromise from October 2022 is now a legal reality.

EU sees brutal drop in renewable energy used in transport

Recently released figures by EU statistics agency Eurostat show a substantial fall in the amount of renewable energy in the transport sector for 2021, an alarming trend that affects almost all EU countries.

Industry warns EU against combustion engine ban for trucks, buses

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.

Stance on cars divides city of Berlin in regional election

The result of a regional election in Berlin shows a major victory for the conservative CDU party (EPP), which had campaigned for a functioning city and a stance against banning cars.