Fleet renewal and environmental objectives in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis

Ten weeks have now passed since the State of Alarm was imposed to deal with an unprecedented crisis in which, in the words of the minister himself, road freight transport has once again demonstrated its dedication and professionalism, guaranteeing the supply and provision of essential products, but which, in turn, and above all in the case of SMEs and the self-employed, has been profoundly affected by the drastic fall in activity.

To mitigate the short-term effects, the priority at the moment is to implement the measures already recommended in terms of health safety, regulatory flexibility and, above all, economic and financial aid to guarantee the continuity of the activity, providing the necessary liquidity. In any case, even if this continuity is guaranteed, this crisis will, to a greater or lesser extent, have its effects on the forthcoming fleet renewal plans, where the acquisition of more eco-efficient vehicles will be conditional on investment possibilities.

The next challenge facing transport in this new post-Covid-19 phase will be to guarantee compliance with the EU'sCO2 emission reduction targets. The "zero emissions" target set for the middle of the century is still a long way off, but the short- and medium-term commitments, which require reductions of 15% and 30% for commercial vehicles by 2025 and 2030, respectively, compared to 2019 levels, are not. With a fleet of mostly diesel vehicles today, these reduction levels represent an improvement in efficiency of more than 3% on average per year, when the technical evolution over the last 3 decades has not exceeded 1% on average and with a level of efficiency with the current Euro VI engines that is difficult to improve. It will be difficult to continue with the approach that "after today's diesel comes more efficient diesel".

Alternative fuels will undoubtedly play a key role in the transition to zero emissions, but this will not be achievable with internal combustion engines and fossil fuels. Electric traction with all its limitations is already a technically and economically feasible reality today, in segments such as passenger cars and vans, but still under development and testing in heavy-duty vehicles.

Considering that a third of the tonne-km transported are journeys of less than 300 km, with current technology, in terms of battery energy density, it would be feasible to make these journeys with electric trucks but, bearing in mind that the introduction of these products on the market is expected over the next two years, it would be difficult to achieve a market share of 15% in the next 5 years, which would allow the planned objectives to be met, simply due to the technological aspect.

Last-mile distribution, which is growing rapidly due to the impact of e-commerce, has electric and natural gas vehicles as less polluting alternatives with affordable operating costs, while for commercial vehicles over 6 tonnes, natural gas is gaining ground. Both technologies are slowly increasing their share, although the target of reaching 15% of the total by 2025 is a long way off.

The challenge will be to find the optimal solution for each different transport application. Forced introduction and quotas could be counterproductive both for the industry and for the environment, as vehicle ownership periods could be increased for technologies still in the testing phase, which must demonstrate a favourable total cost of ownership (TCO) in each particular application. And here the new duo-trailers and mega-trailers can play a very important role both in terms of improving operating costs and reducing emissions per tonne transported.

The range of new propulsion technologies and alternative fuels will, in any case, increase over the next few years: battery electric for delivery and distribution and (bio) gas and fuel cell electric for long distance.

Only the promotion of the use of alternative fuels and propulsion systems, as well as the digitalisation of the sector, regulatory changes and harmonisation, the improvement of transport infrastructures and, especially, the renewal of the ageing fleet (more than 40% of the fleet of trucks over 6 tonnes is over 11 years old, up to 15% more polluting than the current Euro VI), will enable the emission reduction targets to be met. Hydrogen fuel cell electric propulsion will not be available before 2030 and a fully decarbonised supply will not be available until the 2040s.

If the EU finally decides to support the transformation of transport through the Green Deal, it could, for example, partially finance leasing and renting operations for fleet renewal. At the moment, hauliers and manufacturers are fighting for their survival and the former need support to renew their vehicles and the latter to continue their research programmes.

What is said
Follow us at
Latest news