EU Bans New ICE Cars From 2035, But Some Heavy-Duty Vehicles Could Pollute Until 2050

The European Commission claims it has set ambitious new CO2 emissions targets for new heavy-duty vehicles from 2030 onwards. But the Transport&Environment green group argues this way polluting trucks will still be sold in Europe after 2040. It urges EU officials to set an earlier deadline for phasing out new polluting heavy trucks.
The European Commission proposed only 90% CO2 reductions for heavy-duty trucks from 2040 6 photos
Photo: Image by wirestock on Freepik
The zero-emissions target concerns only the new city buses, starting in 2030Electric chargers must be installed on highways every 60 km (37 miles)There are already companies offering mining vehicles with electric powertrainsCosts increase for manufacturers could pass €13,000/vehicle ($13,800/vehicle)T&E’s requirements: all heavy-duty vehicles must be subject to a 2035 zero-emissions deadline
The fact is heavy-duty transport is responsible for more than 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Because they are powered by large diesel engines, trucks, buses, and other heavy-duty vehicles account for more than 25% of emissions from road transport.

For instance, in 2019, road freight emissions were 44% higher than the aviation sector’s and 37% higher than maritime transport emissions. These are the facts the Commission experts are using for their proposal.

Oddly, the outcome is not the same as was the case with light-duty vehicles. You know, from 2035 onward new passenger cars and SUVs must be 100% zero emissions. So, new ICE cars are going to be banned, because they can’t meet these criteria.

In the case of heavy-duty vehicles, the zero-emissions target concerns only the new city buses, starting in 2030. This transport sector expects a fast shift because distances are short and charging infrastructure is easy to put in place in cities. The positive impact is also very easy to quantify.

The zero\-emissions target concerns only the new city buses, starting in 2030
Photo: Mercedes-Benz
Heavy truck transport is a completely different story. Much of the lorries on EU roads and highways usually go on long-distance trips. They must be driven hundreds or even thousands of kilometers between two points. But current battery technology for them is very limited in terms of range and charging times.

Recently, we witnessed the longest trip with an electric semi-trailer truck. It took the driver a week and many charging breaks to finish the 3,000 km (1,860 miles) trip. The same trip takes around four days with a diesel semi. So, there’s high reluctance in the freight transport sector regarding a fast shift to zero-emissions heavy trucks.

Maybe this is why EU Commission’s experts proposed a leaner plan for them. Compared to 2019 levels, the reduction in CO2 emissions for heavy trucks must be according to these milestones:

  • from 2030 – 45% less;
  • from 2035 – 65% less;
  • from 2040 – 90% less.

They also want investments to be channeled into recharging and refueling infrastructure. Initial proposals state that electric chargers must be installed on highways every 60 km (37 miles). Hydrogen refueling stations are to be installed every 150 km (93 miles), as fuel cell technology is seen as crucial for freight transport.

It's important to note that in the freight sector emissions are increasing rapidly, and they will continue to do so, as the road transport demand is expected to keep rising at a fast pace. Again, the logical solution to curb emissions is to impose a phase-out for ICE heavy-duty vehicles.

Instead, those milestones will most likely make the EU’s net-zero climate goal impossible. According to T&E, EU officials should set a 2035 zero-emissions deadline. Otherwise, in 2050 we will still have diesel freight trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles in operation in Europe. Their number will be much lower than today, but they will be responsible for an important amount of emissions.

Add to this picture the exemption to the CO2 reduction targets, applying to these types of heavy-duty vehicles:

  • small volume manufacturers;
  • vehicles used for mining, forestry, and agricultural purposes;
  • vehicles designed and constructed for the use by armed forces and track-laying vehicles;
  • vehicles designed and constructed or adapted for use by civil protection, fire services, and forces responsible for maintaining public order, or urgent medical care;
  • vocational vehicles, such as garbage trucks.

These exempt vehicles represent roughly 10% of the total heavy-duty fleet in the EU, so allowing them to use diesel engines in the next decades will simply undermine the efforts to curb emissions. There are already companies offering mining vehicles, garbage trucks, or fire service trucks with electric powertrains, and these should be the benchmarks.

There are already companies offering mining vehicles with electric powertrains
Photo: Komatsu
Moreover, there are truck companies that have already pledged to far more ambitious targets in slashing emissions. For instance, more than 50% of Daimler Truck and Volvo Trucks’ sales will consist of zero-emission vehicles by 2030. And several other big companies will follow in their footsteps in the next couple of years.

According to data compiled by United Nations Climate Change Convention, road transport, and especially heavy-duty vehicles, is one of the largest sources of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide pollution.

While trucks account for only two percent of vehicles in use in Europe, they are responsible for almost a third of emissions and pollutants. In 2021, the European Environment Agency concluded that road transport causes an estimated 350,000 premature deaths per year in the EU. Tens of thousands are directly attributable to freight transport, because of large diesel engines’ emissions and pollutants.

There is also the question of how much emissions vary in real-world usage compared to official specs. Unlike the U.S., the EU geography has many mountains and in the last years, road traffic congestion numbers have been higher.

Climbing hills and traffic jams lead to much more emissions than usual because diesel’s efficiency under heavy loads is scarce, especially compared to electric powertrains. We should also take into account the higher costs for the industry to adapt large combustion engines to new stringent rules for slashing emissions.

The Commission’s experts estimated average extra costs per trailer and semitrailer to €2,500-5,250 /vehicle ($2,670-5,600/vehicle) compared to the 2020 baseline. In 2040, costs increase for manufacturers for additional technologies in new heavy-duty vehicles could pass €13,000/vehicle ($13,800/vehicle).

But the values could be even ten times higher, as was the case of new Euro 7 pollution standards for passenger cars. Counting subsidies for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles is making futile ICE powertrains use beyond 2030 or 2035 in this sector.

T&E’s requirements\: all heavy\-duty vehicles must be subject to a 2035 zero\-emissions deadline
Photo: Tesla
With all that in mind, T&E’s requirements on the recent EU Commission’s proposal can be summarized as this: city buses should be zero-emissions starting from 2027, while all heavy-duty vehicles must be subject to a 2035 zero-emissions deadline.

The sooner legislation is agreed upon, the better for the industry to prepare feasible business plans to meet the climate goals. Of course, in the process, people will benefit too from drastically slashing emissions. After all, we the people are the most important piece of the puzzle.
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About the author: Oraan Marc
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After graduating college with an automotive degree, Oraan went for a journalism career. 15 years went by and another switch turned him from a petrolhead into an electrohead, so watch his profile for insight into green tech, EVs of all kinds and alternative propulsion systems.
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