European lorry makers face having to cut the carbon dioxide emissions for new trucks by almost a third by 2035, while a UK government body has called for a total ban on new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles by 2040.
Lorries are the latest target of attempts to radically reduce vehicle emissions and force the automotive industry to move away from fossil fuels amid increased concern over global warming and air pollution.
The European parliament on Thursday will vote on laws that would force lorry makers to cut carbon emissions from new trucks by 15% by 2025 and by 30% by 2030.
Lorries, buses and coaches produce more than a quarter of the EU’s CO2 emissions from road transport and about 6% of total CO2 emissions, according to EU data.
It is thought to be highly likely that the proposals will pass the parliamentary vote. The new rules would apply to the UK after Brexit, as the government is committed to emissions standards that are at least as ambitious as current arrangements governed by the EU.
Separately, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which is appointed by the Treasury, on Wednesday said British ministers should ban the sale of new petrol and diesel heavy goods vehicles no later than 2040, matching a similar ban on internal combustion engine cars.
The vast majority of goods vehicles on British roads run on diesel because of its higher fuel efficiency. However, the NIC said that the industry would be able to move to hydrogen fuel cell and battery lorries in the early 2020s.
The haulage industry and business groups have strongly objected to the NIC’s proposals. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, described the proposed ban as “simplistic”, not realistic and not credible given the lack of alternative fuel sources for long-haul heavy goods vehicles.
The tougher attitude towards lorries comes amid a crackdown on carbon emissions across the road transport sector. From 2021 EU carmakers will have to meet an average CO2 emissions target for new cars of 95g per kilometre.
The looming deadline has raised the prospect of carmakers paying billions in fines for failing to improve their carbon footprint. Only Tesla and Smart already meet the target out of 50 major brands, according to analysis by Jato Dynamics, a data company. Jato suggested the car industry could pay as much as €33.6bn (£29bn) in fines from 2021 if it remained at 2018 average emissions.
However, Transport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based campaign group, has raised multiple concerns that carmakers are using loopholes to game the system, avoiding the penalties.
T&E highlighted the potential for carmakers to sell “fake” electric cars, hybrids that mainly rely on petrol power alongside a little-used, low-range electric motor. Selling more electric vehicles means carmakers are allowed to meet less stringent carbon-reduction measures.
Fiat Chrysler is planning to use another loophole to avoid a big fine for producing dirty cars, reportedly paying Tesla hundreds of millions of euros so that the US carmaker’s electric vehicles – with zero direct carbon emissions – are included in its fleet.
Pooling emissions in this way is legal but means that the carmaker’s overall carbon emissions would likely fall more slowly than if it stopped producing cars that run on fossil fuels.
An Fiat Chrysler spokesman said: “The purchase pool provides flexibility to deliver products our customers are willing to buy while managing compliance with the lowest cost approach.”
Julia Poliscanova, T&E’s manager of clean vehicles and emobility, said: “Fiat bet excessively on diesel technology and now is paying the cost of declining diesel sales due to the air pollution crisis in our cities.
“They could have followed other paths to make cleaner cars and thus meet the CO2 targets, like accelerating sales of electric cars or converting some of their heavy-polluting SUVs as plug-in hybrids. At one point bad business choices come back to haunt you.”
Miriam Dalli, a Maltese Labour MEP who was part of the negotiations on the EU carbon limits, told the Guardian the rules had faced fierce opposition from the industry and some member states, including industry-backed studies with “unrealistic assumptions that led to totally misleading results”.
She added that the European commission would also test cars under real-world conditions to avoid a repeat of the “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal, in which Volkswagen installed software to trick emissions tests.