Realistic ambition in truck CO2 cuts

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The EU recently published new proposed rules on regulating CO2 emissions from trucks. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Taming heavy road transport emissions.

The European Commission recently released its proposal on regulating heavy duty CO2 emissions. Rolf Willkrans describes the “not insurmountable challenge” ahead and calls for realistic yet ambitious rules to be adopted.

Rolf Willkrans is the director of environmental affairs at the Volvo Group.

The battle against rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere has come to be seen as one of the great challenges of our time. The effects are clear, and there is growing consensus among citizens, industry and policymakers that something needs to be done.

The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 was seen as a great leap forward, spurring governments around Europe and the world to address the need to keep global average temperatures below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

This recognition and impetus is welcome, and something that we at the Volvo Group fully support. Indeed, for trucks and buses fuel represents 30% of operators’ costs, so the importance of lowering emissions by fuel efficiency has been at the forefront of manufacturers’ minds for decades. After all, which business would buy a truck or bus that was more expensive to run than another?

It is for this dual benefit – environmental and economic – that the Volvo Group, together with other manufacturers, have supported and aided the development of VECTO, the tool by which emissions are calculated, taking into account the various components and profile of each vehicle.

It is why we actively participated in discussions about monitoring and publication of this data; and it is why we are engaging now with the Commission’s proposal for CO2 limits from trucks and buses, and want to make sure that this is done right. Otherwise, the CO2 strategy risks failing to decarbonise European transport as efficiently as possible.

Vehicles for delivery in 2025, when the first Commission target is set for, are already in development, and it is important to remember that trucks are not big cars – they are business tools, have a longer lifecycle, and take a longer time to develop. It is important to understand the complexity of the commercial vehicles industry and our markets to get the best results from the CO2 limits proposal.

Above all, it is important to be realistic. The Volvo Group is supportive of CO2 standards and what they can achieve, but we are also pragmatic.

So when we calculate the savings from each individual technology, we know that these must be taken as part of the whole vehicle, and that while one technology may provide a specific reduction in a lab, it is less effective on the road, in conjunction with other crucial elements of a vehicle, or vary between vehicle classes.

There is no silver bullet, and we must be wary of any suggestion to the contrary. No one component, fuel, or powertrain will solve this problem for us.

It will take massive investment by manufacturers to try out a variety of options to get this right and make sure decarbonisation happens in the best way possible, for our environment and for the economy.

Flexible measures such as allowing manufacturers to have a credit and debit banking system for reaching targets like in the U.S – being over target some years, and under on others – means that targets can be reached as quickly as possible taking into account market realities.

So too does the system of super credits, which allow vehicles which are low- and zero-emission at tailpipe to count higher towards the achievement of targets. While critics might say these offer industry an out, what they really do is avoid unhelpful arbitrary dates, when the important thing is that targets are met in the most efficient way possible. What matters is that we get there.

CO2 standards must also recognise and encourage the work that manufacturers are already doing in reducing the CO2 impact of haulage. One example is the European Modular System (EMS), where different loading units can be combined to carry more at a greater level of fuel efficiency.

The current proposal should recognise this as a separate subgroup of truck. Giving them a higher CO2 performance value is not reflective of their real emissions, and can only result in a greater number of smaller vehicles being used to transport the same volume of goods, thus increasing emissions. Recognition must also be given to the potential of technologies such as platooning in reducing real-world emissions.

To this end, we actively support real-world checks to verify VECTO values, provided of course that these respect customer privacy and that costs are in proportion to benefits.

The challenge that faces industry, policymakers, and society in decarbonising European transport is not easy, but neither is it insurmountable. A combination of ambition, realism, and understanding of the complexities of the commercial vehicle sector and market is needed to make sure that CO2 standards help us to achieve this aim in the best way possible.

Only then can the CO2 emissions reduction strategy be deemed a success, and pave the way for a European transport system which is clean, effective, and continues to nourish and support our economy.

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