Policy makers need to keep up with momentum for emissions-free trucks

December 18, 2020

Less than two years ago the mere thought of producing a zero-emission truck was akin to  building a spaceship. Yet here we are at the end of 2020 and electric trucks can already be bought today. The trucking giants, Volvo and Daimler, have plans to electrify their entire fleets.

It’s been a year full of milestones for clean trucking. Seven truck makers (Scania, MAN, Volvo, DAF, Daimler, IVECO and Ford) announced a joint pledge that by 2040 all their new commercial vehicles will be ‘fossil free’ – a unique time in history where truckmakers seem to jump ahead of what regulations require. However, let’s not be enticed by lofty statements. 

Committing to fossil-free trucking is not sufficient in itself. This leaves the door open to using biofuels or e-fuels, and gives no guarantee that the tank cannot be filled with fossil fuels instead. What’s more, e-fuels are also badly needed to decarbonise planes and ships. A genuine commitment to steadily increase the production of zero-emission trucks is required, be it battery electric or hydrogen fuel cells. If truckmakers truly care about achieving the climate goals they have pledged, they should fully phase out internal combustion engines well before 2040.

Even if far from perfect, the pledge is a wake-up call for the European Commission, whose Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – with the target of 80,000 zero-emission trucks by 2030 – is far far behind where the market is heading. To keep abreast of industry’s ambition, it should set a phase-out date for internal combustion engine vehicles and define national binding targets for zero-emissions infrastructure. 

Another nudge towards clean trucking came from the other side of the Atlantic with California adopting a sales mandate for zero-emission trucks this summer. Now with the Biden administration taking the reins at the White House, sales mandates could become federal. This is a further sign that the EU should be bold to avoid falling behind in the race for zero-emission trucking.

There was good news this year for greening road freight. This summer the European Clean Trucking Alliance offered a way forward with a progressive coalition of businesses and organisations calling for zero-emission solutions for the trucking industry. Some members of the alliance are already showing the way by using zero-emission rigs. Contargo, the biggest trimodal container network in Europe, is already deploying electric trucks while AbInBev is using them to transport bottles of Stella and Corona.

Right before the end of 2020, member states reached an agreement on the Eurovignette proposal. Negotiations with the European Parliament should finally start early next year. T&E will continue to fight for a deal on a road charging system that differentiates vehicles based on their CO2 emissions and distance driven, and that allows for a considerable toll discount for zero-emission trucks. This would considerably tip the scales by making zero-emission trucks more attractive to own and operate.

Finally, with their substantial recovery funds, some Member States, like Germany and France, are planning purchase incentives for zero-emission trucks and for deploying charging infrastructure. Many more member states should follow their example and make 2021 the year of the zero-emission truck.

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