Chapter 3.png
  • America’s can-do spirit eclipses Europe on cleaning up trucks

    In between sending off the last e-mails, cleaning my desk and trying to recover from the T&E Christmas party, I was asked what I’ll remember from 2015. Lots of things obviously but professionally there’s only one thing that really stands out: the new US truck fuel efficiency regulation.

    The US post-2020 proposal that was launched in July 2015 lays the foundations for the most advanced and all-encompassing truck fuel efficiency regulation in the world. It signals America’s determination to use vehicle efficiency standards to challenge Europe’s technology and regulatory leadership. The standards create a big market for advanced truck technologies and will likely transform the US trucking fleet into the world’s most fuel efficient. But make no mistake about it: the truck rule is also about industrial policy. Our American friends aren’t just do-gooding when they’re advising the Chinese on how to develop new truck fuel efficiency regulation.

    What really struck me though is how differently the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Commission have approached truck regulation. In the US, President Obama told his agencies he wanted action on trucks in 2010. A year later there was a fuel efficiency regulation. Sure, it wasn’t the perfect regulation. Some of the tests were a bit simplistic and the ambition was relatively modest. But it was the basis on which the much more sophisticated second phase has been built. So in the US the government and its agencies took a pragmatic but determined approach and steadily drove the process forward in the direction they had set out.

    The can-do mentality of the US contrasts sharply with the EU’s approach.

    When EU leaders demanded a plan to reduce truck CO2 in 2007, and again in 2010, the Commission reacted passively. EU truckmakers filled that void with a strategy of their own. They proposed to help the Commission develop the world’s most fantastic test procedure for truck CO2. They’d gladly provide the Commission with the required technical expertise, testing facilities and vehicles. Five years on that test procedure still isn’t ready and even when it finished it won’t cover hybrids or trailers. Tellingly, the Commission proposed to trailer manufactures that they also develop a trailer test procedure but they weren’t interested. Regulation-on-demand, as it were.

    The picture that emerges – the EU process captured by industry and the US process led by regulators – is a bit odd but fits the bigger picture. Indeed, the same US agencies that regulate trucks caught Volkswagen using defeat devices.

    Still, I’m hopeful for 2016. The Paris deal means climate and energy are back on the agenda. Also, the EU’s 2030 plans, including its transport decarbonisation strategy, give reason for cautious optimism. You simply can’t solve the transport climate problem and ignore a third of road transport emissions. Trucks can’t continue to cruise under the EU radar.

    The good thing is that we don’t have to start from scratch. The Americans lead the pack. All we need to do is analyse how they’ve done it, adapt it to EU needs and then raise the bar. Though, of course, we need to do better than the Americans. Standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were.