What’s the problem?

The use of vans has exploded in Europe and, with it, the problem of their CO2 emissions and air pollution.


In 2019 the EU set legally-binding targets for new vans requiring a 15% reduction in average CO2 emissions of new vans in 2025 and a 31% reduction by 2030.

The use of vans has exploded since Europe set up its internal market in the 1990s. For example, between 2000 and 2010, the number of vans on German roads doubled. This is not because Europe has suddenly needed a lot more plumbers and electricians; it is because vans are increasingly used for goods transport. This has something to do with internet shopping, but more to do with van transport being made artificially attractive by the absence of proper European legislation (compared to their direct alternative, trucks). From an environmental perspective, this is bad news. Vans spew out NOx at levels that are seven times the legal limit and the useless van CO2 standard makes this vehicle segment a technology graveyard.

Vans are truly the neglected outlier of Europe’s freight transport policy. Van drivers don’t require special training or driving licenses, while truck drivers do. Van drivers are not required to rest, unlike their heavy-duty vehicles (HGV) counterparts. Neither do vans face any cabotage restrictions, meaning foreign drivers can stay in another country while still being subject to the national laws of their home country. Light commercial vehicles do not pay the road tolls that trucks pay under ‘Eurovignette’ rules and they have no speed limiter, while trucks (rightly) can only go at a maximum of 90km/h.

How does the EU’s van fuel efficiency law work?

The new legislation sets a target of reducing average CO2 emissions of new vans (light commercial vehicles under 3.5 tonnes) sold in Europe by 15% in 2025 and 31% in 2030. (Note: there is a direct link between CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency.) The rules are an update to the EU’s previous binding CO2 targets agreed in 2014 (Regulation No 253/2014).

The targets are to be achieved on average across all new vans sold in 2025 and 2030. Individual vans can be above or below the limit but vehicle manufacturers have to ensure that the average of their new sales meets these levels. Each manufacturer gets an individual annual target linked to the size (measured by weight) of all its new vans registered in the EU in a given year.

If manufacturers exceed these limits they are obliged to pay fines of €95 per vehicle per gram of CO2/km over the target.

What are the main benefits of more fuel-efficient vans?

Fuel efficient vans bring enormous benefits. First and foremost they slash fuel costs for businesses using vans. The money saved by van owners in lower costs of vehicle ownership will be used to boost local economies. But fuel efficiency standards also spur high-tech investments, create high-quality jobs in Europe, reduce Europe’s dependence on imported oil and lead to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

What is the link between van fuel consumption and CO2 emissions?

The amount of CO2 a van emits is directly related to the amount of fuel it consumes. Based on limited data, we know – just as with cars – the gap between the fuel used and CO2 emitted on the new WLTP test cycle and real-world use is growing. However, the new regulation requires the deployment of fuel consumption meters, and these will offer greater insights into this gap in the years ahead – and the importance of closing it. 

Electric vans 

Reports by CE Delft (for T&E) and McKinsey show that the total cost of operating electric vans is now at or approaching parity with diesel. Unfortunately the 2019 legislative revision exerts little or no pressure on vehicle-makers to produce more e-vans. Given this background, the next step for policy-makers is to find other ways to improve e-van deployment rates, and T&E will come forward with policy suggestions on this issue in 2019-2020.