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Truckmakers accused of putting brakes on technological change


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The Financial Times  /  May 30, 2016

Campaigners say industry strongly resisted attempts to cut fuel consumption and emissions

EU parliamentarians and environmental campaigners have long had suspicions about Europe’s truckmakers. For 20 years, lorries seemed strangely impervious to market forces that were supposed to make them more fuel efficient and reduce hazardous emissions.

Some clues to the mystery emerged in November 2014, when Brussels levelled formal cartel charges against the continent’s biggest truck manufacturers: DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Volvo/Renault and Scania.

Accused of widespread price-fixing between 1997 and 2011 and delaying the introduction of new emissions technologies, the companies are expected to receive the highest cartel fine in EU history in the coming months — running to several billion euros.

But the cartel investigation is only one strand of a far broader pattern of alleged collusive behaviour by lorry makers and the governments that lobby for them.

Environmental campaigners argue that the cartel relates to the pricing and timing of technologies intended to reduce toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx), which exacerbate lung and heart ailments.

However, beyond the scope of the cartel inquiry, they also allege that the truck industry has strongly resisted attempts to improve fuel consumption and slash emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas.

Emissions from lorries are a subject of intense concern because they produce about 25 per cent of the CO2 from road transport, while representing fewer than 5 per cent of vehicles on the roads. Despite new, greener technologies being available, the European Commission reported in 2014 that heavy vehicles’ fuel efficiency had stagnated since the mid-1990s and estimated that their CO2 emissions increased 36 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

One of the most conspicuous cases of lorry makers flexing their muscles to resist technological change came in December 2014. The commission and European Parliament had pushed to introduce rules by 2017 that would enable truckmakers to replace their brick-shaped cabs with more aerodynamic and fuel efficient designs.

Countries such as France and Sweden lobbied hard to push the start-date to 2025 to protect their domestic producers. Finally, the parties struck a compromise of 2022.

Michael Cramer, chairman of the European Parliament’s transport committee, complained that member states’ protection of their truck manufacturers lay in stark contrast to Europe’s other main industries, which had cleaned up their businesses dramatically since 1990. “Transport is nullifying efforts in other sectors,” he told the Financial Times.

William Todts from the Transport and Environment campaign group accused the truckmakers of squandering a “unique opportunity” to produce a new generation of smooth-nosed, fuel efficient vehicles. “Instead of making the most of it, truckmakers got together and made a deal among themselves to block new designs for another decade. It’s this attitude that helps explaining 20 years of very little progress on truck fuel efficiency,” he said.

The motor industry says that its performance in CO2 emissions should be rated over a longer timeframe, noting big improvements since the mid-1960s.

Lorry manufacturers have also argued that they have made very significant steps to slice NOx emissions after the introduction of the so-called Euro 6 standards in 2014. Scania launched a Euro 6 truck as early as 2011 and Iveco insists it is embracing the “challenge of sustainability”. Daimler invested €2.8bn into improving environmental standards in vehicles of all types last year.

However, Transport and Environment has conducted recent surveys that provide further evidence of a lack of competition on fuel efficiency. Research published this month has found that only 3 per cent of French and German hauliers had ever switched brands to improve fuel efficiency.

Of 180 small and medium-sized hauliers across five big EU countries — France, Germany, Britain, Spain and Poland — only 12 per cent had ever changed brand.

Mr Todts said that the difference in fuel efficiency between the main truck models on offer was only about 5 per cent, although the vehicles were far from having reached maximum efficiency. Stressing that the “market alone cannot do the job”, Mr Todts called for the EU to legislate on binding standards for CO2 emissions as the US, Canada, Japan and China have done.

ACEA, the European Motor Manufacturers’ Association, declined to comment specifically on the alleged cartel involving its members.

However, it has played down the impact of Europe’s heavy-duty vehicles, saying that they represent only 5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions., while transporting 75 per cent of all land-based freight.

“Since 1965, the fuel consumption of European trucks — and with that CO2 emissions — has come down by 60 per cent,” ACEA said in a statement this year.

“At the same time, truckmakers have delivered enormous advances in air quality. Pollutant emissions have been slashed to near-zero levels, down 98 per cent since 1990.”

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