Vans are the fastest growing source of CO2 emitted from transport. Electric vans are being made and sold - but only in tiny numbers: more ambitious CO2 targets are needed for vanmakers to scale sales up.

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Vans now account for 13% of road transport carbon pollution in the EU. But while emissions-free vans are ready,  only 2% of the new vans sold in 2020 were electric – compared to 11% for cars. T&E advocates that all new vans sold in the EU should be zero-emission at the latest by 2035 to meet Europe’s climate neutrality objective by 2050.

A big challenge ahead

With van sales rising quickly, particularly of heavier models, CO2 emissions from all vans on EU roads grew by 58% since 1990, compared to 20% growth from cars. To meet the European Green Deal’s commitment to climate neutrality, all sales of new vans need to be zero emissions by 2035 at the very latest.

Vans also need to go zero emission to protect air quality. Vans today represent 14% of NOx emissions from vehicles in cities. Based on data from Paris, the average van emits almost twice the nitrogen oxides NOx of the average car. NOx is a particularly harmful air pollutant linked to a number of respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis.

But progress towards zero emission vans is slow. The average new van in 2019 emitted 159g of CO2 per kilometre. The comparable figure for 2020 is 154g – only half the rate of annual reductions needed to reach full zero-emission output by 2035.

The current weak EU CO2 standard brings only very low numbers of electric vans on to the market. Even in 2020, only 2% of the newly-registered vans were electric. This is despite the fact that the business case – or the total cost of ownership – for companies to choose zero emission models is already there, especially for small vans and urban delivery vehicles.

What CO2 targets are currently in place? 

In 2019 EU decision-makers agreed CO2 targets for vans requiring a 15% reduction in average CO2 emissions of new vans by 2025, and a 31% reduction by 2030 compared to 2021. 

Commission’s 2021 proposal for new van CO2 targets 

In mid-July 2021 the European Commission published a proposal to review the post-2025 van CO2 targets as part of the ‘Fit for 55’ package.  Under the proposal, CO2 emissions from new vans would have to fall 50% by 2030, and 100% from 2035. 

T&E has welcomed the Commission’s proposal as a big step forward. However, as T&E noted when the proposals came out, without improving the target before 2030, sales of new e-vans are likely to stay as low as 5-7% up until 2027/2028. An interim target in 2027 will address the e-van shortfall by giving a much-needed boost to e-van supply in the 2020s. For 2027 T&E is calling on Member States and MEPs to apply a -31% target (in practice, moving the ‘old’ 2030 target forward 3 years). 

The Commission’s proposal also leaves too much work to be done in the years immediately preceding 2035. This can be addressed by improving the -50% target put forward by the Commission for 2030, raising it -60%, and thereby ensuring that at least half of all new vans sold in 2030 are zero-emission. This improvement will help meet the growing demand for e-vans over the course of the 2020s and enable a step-wise ramp-up to 100% of new sales by 2035. Ensuring a steady build-up in e-van sales from today’s ultra low base (2%) is vital to turning the EU’s van decarbonisation plan into reality. 

In a number of Member States – including the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland – all new vans sold from 2030 must be zero emission, and it’s important that the legislative revision facilitates these progressive plans. 

T&E also supports a number of changes to modalities to help enable van-makers reach the enhanced targets. A key aspect must be to replace the perverse incentive of allowing heavier diesel and petrol vans to emit more CO2 with a simple and effective weight categorisation.

We also urge the Commission to consider the incentive of weight allowance for larger e-vans which would only apply in the short term (i.e. to 2030). But incentives must be avoided for plug-in hybrid electric vans (PHEVs), noting the lessons from passenger cars where the average real-world emissions of plug-in hybrids are up to 8 times higher than those recorded in lab tests.

Relevant publications

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