Truck CO2 standards

The CO2 standards for new heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) is the most important legislation to regulate climate emissions from trucks and buses in Europe. HDVs - or all road vehicles above 3.5 tonnes moving goods and passengers - are responsible for 25% of climate emissions from road transport in Europe, while accounting for only 2% of the vehicles on the road.

90% CO2 reduction target for new trucks and coaches sold in the EU in 2040

-62% The projected cut in CO2 emissions from the trucks fleet in 2050, compared to 1990

Europe’s CO2 standards for new trucks and buses

To reach climate neutrality by 2050, trucks and buses need to be entirely decarbonised. Zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) – which include battery electric (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) as well as hydrogen combustion trucks (H2-ICE) – are the only available technology which can cut emissions from new sales quickly, fully decarbonise the heavy-duty sector in the long-term, and eliminate harmful air pollution.

In 2019, the EU adopted the first ever CO2 standards for new heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs). The Regulation required truck manufacturers to reduce the average emissions of their new sales with 15% by 2025 and 30% by 2030 (relative to a 2019/2020 baseline). The scope of the regulation comprised most heavy lorries which are responsible for around 62% of HDV sales and 65% of HDV fleet emissions in the EU.

Under the recently agreed new CO2 standards, the scope of the regulation was extended to also cover medium lorries, all heavy trucks (including those with special axle configurations), vocational vehicles (from 2035), urban buses, coaches and trailers. This means that 87% of HDV sales and 93% of HDV fleet emissions in the EU are now covered by the regulation.

Manufacturers will have to cut the average emissions of new trucks and coaches by 43% in 2030, 64% in 2035 and 90% in 2040. Urban buses will need to reach 90% zero-emission sales in 2035, increasing to 100% by 2035. Trailer manufacturers will have to reduce emissions by 7.5% (drawbar trailers) and 10% (semi-trailers) until 2030.

Fuel efficiency

The CO2 standards for HDVs leave flexibility to manufacturers how they want to comply with the CO2 reduction targets. They can choose to produce more efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks or sell more ZEVs. While ZEVs will increasingly dominate the compliance strategies of truckmakers, it can also be expected to see some fuel efficiency improvements of 1.3% per year for heavy trucks and 0.5% in other segments until the end of the decade.

The shortcomings of the new CO2 standards

The recently revised regulation is a landmark agreement which will reduce CO2 emissions in the road transport sector and contribute to Europe's industrial competitiveness, economic prosperity, and climate-neutral future. However, due to a number of shortcomings, the new regulation will only reduce emissions from HDVs by around two-thirds until 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). While the review brings a number of improvements compared to the previous regulation, it is falling short in 4 key aspects:

  • It lacks a 100% zero-emission target

  • Its 2030 target is too low and lags behind industry plans

  • It leaves 13% of HDV sales unregulated

  • It defines trucks running partially on diesel as zero-emission

The new regulation fails to include a 100% zero-emission target and instead stops at a -90% CO2 reduction target in 2040. And although the CO2 target for trucks, buses and coaches is increased from the previous -30% to -45% in 2030, more is needed to ramp up the supply of clean trucks and buses fast enough.

T&E analysis shows that the new law would only reduce HDV emissions by 62% in 2050 (compared to 1990). In contrast, setting a 100% zero-emission target in 2035 for trucks, buses and coaches and setting a CO2 target of -70% in 2030 (in line with the industry's plans for the end of the decade) would reduce the sector's GHG emissions by more than 94% until 2050.

The law also continues to exempt small trucks as well as a number of so-called ‘non-certified’ vehicles. Vocational trucks will be regulated, but only from 2035. This means that climate emissions from vehicles that drive in our cities every day, including delivery, garbage and construction trucks, are either not regulated or only after a 10-year delay. Together, the exempted vehicles make up 13% of HDV sales and 7% of HDV fleet emissions.

Finally, the review is changing the ZEV definition to also allow for hydrogen dual-fuel engines running partially on diesel to qualify as zero-emission. While it is reasonable to define ICE trucks which are running exclusively on hydrogen as zero-emission, it is not acceptable to grant the same label to trucks which still (partly) run on diesel. If we are to build a zero-emission and zero-pollution mobility system, BEVs and FCEVs (i.e. all vehicles without an engine) are the only truly zero-emission technologies which can fully decarbonise the sector and eliminate harmful air pollution.

Industry headed for zero emissions, but certainty needed

10 EU countries have already pledged to transition to 100% zero-emission HDV sales by 2040. They have done so under a Global Memorandum of Understanding, which was also signed by the UK, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, as well as Canada and the US. California, whose emission standards are commonly followed by other US states, has adopted a 100% zero-emission sales target for trucks and buses in 2036.

Today, Europe’s truck manufacturers are world leaders in developing commercial vehicle technology. They have established a growing presence in global and emerging markets, including the US, China and India. The newly agreed CO2 standards will help Europe maintain its technological edge in the heavy-duty segment, just when the US is joining China in the race for industrial leadership following the Inflation Reduction Act.

The HDV CO2 standards are the key supply-side policy to mandate Europe’s truckmakers to invest, manufacture and sell clean trucks. The new law will send the necessary signal and create long-term investment certainty for Europe’s industry.