June 21. 2024. 2:13

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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.

The CO2 reduction targets will increase in intensity roughly every five years, starting with a 45% reduction compared to 2019 levels by 2030, scaling up to 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2040.

The targets are fleet-based, meaning manufacturers must meet them as an average. As a result, while most vehicles in 2040 will need to be powered by electricity or hydrogen, a minority may retain combustion engines.

The regulation also includes stricter standards for city buses, mandating a switch to zero-emission technology by 2030.

The long-awaited regulatory proposal was unveiled today in Strasbourg by the European Commission’s climate chief Frans Timmermans, who stressed that the measure will reduce demand for imported fossil fuels and boost energy savings in the transport sector.

A shift to cleaner vehicles will also help to safeguard Europe’s manufacturing leadership, he argued.

“The EU is a market leader in the production of trucks and buses and setting this legal framework already now will help it secure that position towards the future,” said Timmermans.

Heavy-duty vehicles make up around 2% of traffic on European roads and are responsible for some 28% of road transport emissions.

Internal resistance to a combustion-engine ban

“Demand for zero-emission trucks and buses will only keep increasing. The earlier we get there, the better for our planet, industry, citizens and the quality of life in the villages, towns and cities where they all live,” he added.

EURACTIV understands that although Timmermans had favoured a 100% cut in CO2 emissions by 2040 internally, he lacked support from his cabinet colleagues to get it through.

In an interview in late 2022, Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton publicly questioned the EU’s decision to pursue a ban on combustion engines for passenger cars, musing that the decision could hurt the bloc’s industrial competitiveness.

Asked by EURACTIV about the possibility of using hydrogen-derived e-fuels as a means to decarbonise heavy-duty vehicles, Timmermans took a critical stance.

“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. We should not use them for road transport in any way or form,” he said.

Maintaining ‘technology diversity’

The centre-right EPP group, a strong opponent of the 2035 sales ban on polluting passenger vehicles, welcomed the 90% reduction target for heavy-duty vehicles.

“With today’s proposal on emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the European Commission is finally backing down from its banning ideology. The Social Democratic Vice-President Timmermans has apparently not been able to get his way,” said Jens Gieseke.

“This is a success for all those who have been campaigning for technological openness in recent months,” he added.

CLEPA, a trade association representing automotive suppliers, similarly praised the European Commission for allowing “technology diversity” through its 90% target for 2040, but condemned the interim targets as overly ambitious.

“We appreciate maintaining technology diversity by not setting a phase-out mandate, however, the increase in 2030 and 2035 targets is very challenging,” said CLEPA Secretary General, Benjamin Krieger. “Only four years ago the 2030 target was set, which was already ambitious, and this target should be fixed.”

Sigrid de Vries, the secretary general of vehicle manufacturer trade association ACEA, called for the EU to ramp up the number of charging points across the bloc in response to the new targets.

“Given that charging stations that are suited to the specific needs of trucks are almost completely missing today, the challenge ahead is enormous,” she said.

“We are concerned that only vehicle manufacturers will face high penalties if other stakeholders do not fulfil their role in making this possible – especially given the low level of ambition that member states are showing on the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR),” she added.

A ‘craven concession’?

Green NGO Transport & Environment was highly critical of the proposal, saying that the new EU plan “would make the bloc’s net-zero climate goal impossible”. The group had campaigned for stricter targets, with a 2035 cut-off for the sale of polluting vehicles.

Fedor Unterlohner, freight manager at T&E, said the failure to set a deadline for the shift to 100% clean trucks is “a craven concession to truck manufacturers”.

“Without more stringent targets from 2030, there will be a glut of polluting diesel lorries still on our roads for decades to come,” he added.

The file will now go to the European Parliament and the Council which will study the regulation and propose amendments.