The sweet smell of cartel: why truckmakers oppose cleaner and safer lorries

Margrethe Vestager, European Competition commissioner has announced that she is stepping up the anti-trust and cartel investigation against EU truckmakers. The Commission suspects several truckmakers of price fixing and anti-competitive behaviour. Cartel behaviour hampers innovation in safety and fuel efficiency.

The Commission move did not come as a surprise to T&E. 

There’s something fishy about the world of truck manufacturing with only four major groups in Europe (Daimler, Volvo-Renault, MAN-Scania, DAF and, to a lesser extent, IVECO) and no competition from the US or Japan. 

Take, for example, the fact that fuel economy has stagnated for the last 20 years. In a business where fuel costs amount to one-third of operating costs of a haulier you would expect cut-throat competition to deliver the most fuel-efficient models. 

But new truck fuel economy is very similar for all brands (as are prices). Tests by magazines show the difference between comparable models is very limited. 

And then there’s the discussion about new truck design rules. 

In 2013 the Commission proposed truckmakers should be permitted, but not required, to build slightly longer, curvy cabs that are more fuel efficient, emit less CO2 and are safer by providing much improved direct vision. But truckmakers want to retain “competitive neutrality”.[1] They fear that one of them would benefit more from the new opportunity so they’ve collectively decided that no-one should benefit for at least another decade. Could you imagine any other industry opposing the freedom (not obligation) to innovate? 

The truckmakers’ position that we need a 10-year moratorium smells of cartel.

It’s good news that all of this comes to the surface now. The new Commission is thinking about how to reduce truck CO2 emissions and Parliament and Council are in the final stage of negotiations on truck design rules.

On truck CO2 the message is quite clear. The previous Commission’s assumption that better information will solve the problem is no longer credible. It’s not that hauliers don’t choose the most efficient vehicles – the problem is that the truckmakers don’t provide sufficient choice. So the EU should follow the example of the US and introduce CO2 standards as soon as possible. 

On the truck design rules the picture is even clearer. Prohibiting safer and cleaner designs to maintain “competitive neutrality”, as ACEA wants, is absurd and anti-competitive. France and Sweden, the primary cheerleaders of the truck industry in Council, need to rethink their position. And if they don’t, the Commission, Parliament and other Member States should outvote them. 

It’s time for a breath of fresh air and the new truck design rules can provide just that. 

Notes:

[1] In its position, now offline, ACEA says: “6.  recalls that redesigning the cab is an extremely complex exercise that requires development time. Since the product lifecycle for a cab is on average 15 years, manufacturers need to know about  a  new  regulatory  framework  several  years  before  implementation, in  order  ensure competitive  neutrality.  Therefore,  a  sufficient  transitional  period  for  application  has  to  be included in the revision;”

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William Todts's picture

Executive Director

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