US vs EU: 2-0

The European Council first asked the Commission to take action to reduce truck emissions in 2007. A decade later, the Commission still hasn’t proposed any legislation. Meanwhile, the US didn’t just adopt one fuel regulation, it adopted two, the first one in 2011 and the second one in 2016. In August 2016 the US adopted their second phase standard which will make American trucks the most fuel efficient in the world. A decade missed for the EU – Shown step by step in the timeline below.

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America’s challenge to Europe’s truck supremacy

Historically, American trucks are less efficient than EU trucks. That’s mostly because diesel prices in Europe are much higher. But in 2011 the Obama administration adopted its first ever truck fuel economy standard. This first phase standard regulates both the engine efficiency and the whole vehicle’s performance and required improvements of 9 to 23%. 

The new fuel economy standard, adopted in August 2016, means that the US will soon have the most fuel-efficient trucks in the world. The new standards will improve efficiency of tractor-trailers, vocational trucks, large pickup trucks, vans and commercial trailers. The vehicle and engine performance standard for tractor-trailers, pickup trucks, vans, buses and work trucks will cover model years 2021-2027. The trailer standard will start in 2018.

Tractor-trailers – which emit the most CO2 and burn the most fuel – will now become 30% more efficient by 2027 compared to 2017 levels (see graph). The additional purchase costs of the fuel saving technology required to reach the targets will be 2 years.  

ICCT – a big win win on big trucks 

Thanks to the standard, truck fuel economy in the US will now improve more than twice as fast as in the EU in the next decade. This means that by 2027 US tractor-trailer will become 16% more efficient than EU long-haul trucks. However, Europe is not done for yet. The 2016 European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility has announced that the EU will introduce standards, an excellent opportunity to reclaim the top position and raise the bar globally.

What do truckmakers think of the US fuel economy standards?

European truckmakers have a strong presence in America. Combined Daimler and Volvo are responsible for around half of new truck sales in the US. The other companies also have links to Europe. Paccar is the owner of DAF trucks whilst Navistar is partly owned by Volkswagen.

The attitude of truckmakers in the US contrasts starkly with how they behave in Europe. Companies like Volvo and Daimler were supportive of the phase 1 regulation and collaborated closely with the US Environment Protection Agency to develop the phase II rule.

When the rule was finally adopted, Daimler and Volvo welcomed it:

“The Volvo Group strongly supports the objective of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and fuel consumption through this regulatory process. Improved fuel economy is a goal all stakeholders can unite around. The new targets represent a real challenge for our industry, and we are focused on meeting these very ambitious goals.””

“Daimler Trucks North is pleased that the EPA and NHTSA chose a non-disruptive implementation of the standard, thereby allowing the industry over a decade to phase in technical changes,”


 Europe: what progress without standards?

According to a 2015 study commissioned by the German Environment Agency a new EURO VI truck in Europe now averages around 34.5l/100km. The ICCT assumes it’s somewhere around 33l/100km. For the past few decades, EU truck fuel efficiency has been relatively stable. Without regulatory intervention, we do not expect significant year-on-year improvements. This assessment is in line with AEA-Ricardo’s 2011 study which estimates that tractor-trailer fuel efficiency will only improve by 0.5% per year until 2030. However, the Commission’s 2014 impact assessment optimistically assumed 1% per year improvements until 2030. So it’s probably fair to assume that without standards, truck fuel economy will improve by 0-1% per year. That’s clearly not enough to meet the 2030 and Paris Climate targets.

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The truck cartel

It started with a meeting in a “cosy hotel” in Brussels back in 1997. Truck CEOs had come together to discuss something that would guarantee huge profits for the years to come. This meeting in a cosy hotel marked the beginnings of a price fixing cartel that would last for the next fourteen (14!) years! MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Scania, Iveco and DAF all participated and jointly fixed prices and delayed the introduction of emission technologies.

  • European Commission flags Berlaymont VECTO test

The position of the European Commission

The EU first signaled it wanted to tackle truck CO2 emissions in 2007. For almost a decade, the Commission remained vague about its plans and focused on developing a test procedure to measure truck CO2 emissions called VECTO.

The rest of the world is ahead of us

China adopted its first set of truck fuel economy standards in 2011. Three years later it finalised the second - more demanding - truck fuel economy standard. In May 2016 the Chinese government announced the 3rd phase. The EU is currently the only large developed economy that does not regulate fuel efficiency for trucks.