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  • Never waste a good crisis: the EU truck cartel fine should benefit hauliers and environment

    Back in 2014 I wrote a blogpost saying that truckmakers behaviour smelled of cartel. At the time, the truckmakers had just successfully torpedoed a proposal to allow – not mandate – smarter, safer and more fuel-efficient truck designs. It was quite a surreal experience with truckmakers opposing more design freedom saying it would upset “competitive neutrality”. Our joint position with hauliers was: “who cares, we want more competition so bring on the new cabs”. But truckmakers rallied their friends in the member state transport ministries and managed to postpone the enabling of new designs to after 2020.

    There were other hints of strange behaviour too. The European Commission and the European truck industry have jointly developed a tool to measure the fuel efficiency and carbon emissions of trucks. The so-called VECTO tool has been promoted as a way to provide truck buyers with independent information and create more transparency and competition in the trucking market. But when hauliers, fleet forwarders and leasing companies started showing actual interest and demanding full access to the tool, truckmakers hit the brakes and the Commission acquiesced. The result is that fleets will remain as dependent as ever on truckmakers and dealerships which helps solidify truckmakers’ hold over the market. Of course it’s exactly that market power that allows the OEMs to collude.

    So what happens next?

    Well, of course, truckmakers will have to pay up. And they may face additional damage claims at national level from the fleets that suffered most from the cartel. An interesting question is what should happen to the cartel fine. Should it just flow into the EU’s coffers (or worse, into the coffers of EU governments where the truckmakers have their HQs?). I don’t think so.

    I feel very strongly that the EU should use the money to the benefit of the damaged parties which are in this case the environment and the hauliers. So we propose the fine should be directed towards research and development of cleaner, more energy efficient vehicles (the US supertruck programme could be an inspiration), or the accelerated electrification of transport.

    But we should do more. Here’s four things the EU should do to prevent cartel practices from happening:

    1. Introduce fuel economy standards. During the period in which truckmakers operated a cartel, they made hardly any progress on fuel efficiency. US-style fuel economy standards are a key part of what is needed to (re)focus truckmakers on bringing down fuel costs and carbon emissions.

    2. Enable better cabs now! In 2014 the EU agreed a murky compromise to enable new cab designs after: 1) an assessment of the necessary technical requirements, and 2) a three-year moratorium. The Commission should speed up this assessment and enable new designs from 2020. The new design rules are a huge industrial opportunity and the earlier truckmakers are allowed to compete on this, the better.

    3. Open up and improve the truck CO2 test procedure (VECTO). There is a real opportunity to break truckmakers’ stranglehold over their customers by making essential information about fuel consumption available more widely. The Commission should give the transport industry access to the truck test procedure and add a on-road truck CO2 test (similar to RDE) to complement the simulation-based VECTO test. This on-road test must be designed so that it can also be performed by third parties including fleets, research institutes and NGOs.

    4. Differentiate taxes and tolls based on truck CO2 emissions. The Commission must amend the road tolling directive (Eurovignette) to allow EU countries to differentiate truck km-charges based on the truck’s carbon performance. This would give an additional incentive to hauliers to buy the cleaner vehicles truckmakers will have to supply under the truck fuel economy rules.