Reducing CO2 Together


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What progress has been made?

Transport is currently responsible for around a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions, with road transport representing 17.8% of total emissions, arising from the use of vehicles. Of this, all heavy-duty vehicles in Europe combined account for 5% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, while they are responsible for carrying 75% of all land-based freight. As a comparison, energy supply is responsible for 30% of emissions and industry for 19%.

The truck industry remains committed to continuing to lower greenhouse gas emissions through more fuel-efficient technology (such as common rail injection, GPS-based automated gearboxes, highly-efficient exhaust after-treatment systems). This comes in addition to further improvements of combustion and air handling, aerodynamics, low rolling resistance tyres and advanced control systems.

Sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe

Pie chart to show sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe

Transport of freight over land in Europe

Pie chart to show transport of freight over land in Europe

Pollutant emissions have been slashed to near-zero levels

Between the early nineties and 2013, the main focus of policy makers and the industry was on achieving dramatic decreases in pollutant emissions, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particles (PM). To that end, six sets of ‘Euro’ standards were introduced in just over 20 years.

As a result, pollutant emissions from the latest Euro VI heavy-duty vehicles have been slashed to near-zero levels.

However, it should be understood that reducing pollutant emissions requires conflicting measures to reducing CO2 emissions. This ‘technological trade-off’ made it extremely difficult to decrease CO2 emissions simultaneously.

Line graph to show pollutant emission levels Trucks engines infographic showing emissions levels

Further reducing CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles

With the major investments in reducing pollutant emissions behind it, the industry then shifted focus to reducing CO2 emissions and succeeded in reducing fuel consumption by about 8% over the last five years.

Per tonne transported, this innovation has resulted in a fuel consumption of as little as nearly one litre of fuel per 100 tonne-km, delivering a significant reduction of CO2 emissions.

Line chart to show ways of further reducing CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles

Data: Lastauto Omnibus, Trucker Magazine & Green Truck Award

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Why is the truck market so complex?

The end-use or ‘mission’ of trucks varies widely – they may for instance be used for long-haul or regional delivery, for construction or for municipality use.

Depending on their mission, most trucks are custom-built on an individual basis in order to meet specific requirements, from the number of axles to the size of the engine and fuel tank, to the size of the cab or the height of the chassis.

Furthermore, when we take the complete vehicle into account – the rigid body or a tractor plus trailer – the heavy-duty vehicle market becomes even more complex. There are literally thousands of shapes and sizes of trucks.

Image of multiple trucks with the caption 'There simply is no one-size fits alll approach for heavy-duty vehicles'

Considering the complexity of the truck market, introducing legislation suitable for all variations is extremely challenging. There simply is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for heavy-duty vehicles.

Trucks are not ‘big cars’. CO2 reduction policy for heavy-duty vehicles should therefore not follow the same approach as that for passenger cars.

Key features of trucks

Any strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles has to take account of the key features of trucks:

  • The shape of the vehicles, which depends on their daily ‘mission’.

  • The same tractor or engine may end up pulling very different trailers and combinations, affecting the CO2 emissions of the complete vehicle.

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  • The usage pattern of the vehicles and their cargo, in other words, ‘the work they do’.

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Is the payload heavy or light,
large or small?

Flat and hilly landscapes

Is the road flat or hilly?

Short and long distances

Will the vehicle travel over a long distance
in one go, or is the journey short
with many starts and stops?

All these variables result in different CO2 emissions.

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Fuel Efficiency and Vecto

Why is fuel efficiency so important to the truck customers?

Trucks and buses are economic goods, which makes fuel efficiency a key element in the purchase decision.

Fuel represents around 30% of the running costs in the transport sector. Given the competition between transport service providers for goods and people, strong economic incentives exist for fuel efficiency improvement.

Operating costs of a truck

Pie chart showing the operating costs of a truck

How will customer information be improved with VECTO?

Giving customers transparent and reliable fuel consumption information based on a common testing method will allow them to select the most CO2-efficient vehicle.

Since 2010, the European Commission has been working closely with the industry on a computer simulation tool (VECTO), which will model CO2 emissions from a wide variety of complete truck and trailer configurations. This means that VECTO will be able to reflect the complexity of the heavy-duty vehicle market, as it takes the variables into account that affect the CO2 emissions of complete vehicles.

The upcoming EU legislation on the certification of CO2 from heavy-duty vehicles will require a mandatory declaration of CO2 values for each truck produced for the EU market, using this VECTO tool.

This CO2 certification has a lot of potential to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from trucks, as it provides a credible, standardised way of comparing fuel efficiency. It will lead to increased transparency and competition among manufacturers, driving the market uptake of the cleanest vehicles.

Before setting the direction for future CO2 reduction policy, we first need to have a clear understanding of the baseline – reflecting today’s level of truck CO2 emissions.

VECTO is a necessary tool to close this knowledge gap. It is essential that policy makers give time to analyse the impact of this data collection and certification procedure before considering setting CO2 limits for heavy-duty vehicles.

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VECTO gives customers transparent and reliable fuel consumption information.

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VECTO allows customers to compare the CO2 and fuel efficiency performance of vehicles from different manufacturers.

This means that transport operators can choose the most fuel-efficient vehicle more easily, helping them to lower the cost of running a fleet.

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The customer receives certified CO2 values for each truck purchased.

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VECTO stimulates innovation and competition among manufacturers to develop the most fuel-efficient vehicles. After all, end-users will be able to compare the offerings of different manufacturers by using VECTO results.

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VECTO provides a credible, standardised way of comparing fuel efficiency. It will also give a clear picture of progress in reducing CO2 emissions from trucks.

Hence, VECTO ensures that the most fuel-efficient vehicle combinations are brought onto the market, thereby significantly reducing CO2 emissions from trucks.

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In 2008, the commercial vehicle industry made a commitment to reduce fuel consumption from new vehicles by 20% by 2020, compared to 2005. A recent study by Transport & Mobility Leuven (TML), confirmed that the industry is on track with reaching this target.

However, the technology of new vehicles is just part of a bigger picture. Firstly, because new vehicles represent such a small fraction of the fleet, it is important to look at the entire vehicle fleet rather than just new vehicles. Secondly, there are many more factors than just the vehicle alone that determine CO2 emissions – such as permitted vehicle length and weight, trailer designs, alternative fuels, driver behaviour, transport operations, infrastructure, or a better utilisation of the vehicle (for example load optimisation), to name a few. A truly integrated approach would draw on this full spectrum of solutions to reduce CO2 emissions more effectively.

The TML study quantifies for the first time the reduction potential of this integrated approach, and estimates the potential gains to be more than double the CO2 reduction rate from a ‘vehicle only’ approach. The overall results of the study were validated by a consortium of 15 stakeholders who, together with truck manufacturers represent the different components of the integrated approach.

A truly integrated approach would draw
on the full spectrum of solutions to
reduce CO2 emissions more effectively

Spider chart showing an intergrated approach to reducing CO2 emissions


The integrated approach is not just a theoretical concept, truck manufacturers have demonstrated the potential of these measures in real-life conditions.

Transport Lab

For five years, Transport Lab ran a fleet of some 25 vehicles from Sweden to Holland, implementing all measures that can help to reduce emissions – from vehicles and logistics, to driver training and alternative fuels.

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This test fleet achieved fuel consumption reductions of a full 50% between 2008 and 2013.

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Logistics planning

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Driver training

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Efficiency Run

By looking at all parts of a vehicle and trailer rather than focusing on a single component, the Efficiency Run tests found that each truck consumed around 12% to 14% less fuel than standard vehicles in each fleet.

Efficiency run infographic showing tyres, predicitve powertrain control and aerodynamics icons contributing to a fuel efficiency saving of 12% to 14%

The tests also investigated the potential of long combination vehicles, and found that fuel consumption was reduced by around 17% compared with standard semi-trailer combinations.

Efficiency run infographic showing long combination vehicles contributing to a 17% fuel efficiency saving

Measures to combat CO2 more effectively

How does the EU compare to the US?

As European manufacturers are global players, they also produce trucks for the American, Chinese and Japanese markets. EU truck manufacturers implement the latest and best technology, wherever customers are asking for it.

However, it is difficult to compare the CO2 emissions of EU and US trucks. This is because trucks are designed for their market-specific use, and freight efficiency is mostly determined by legal boundary conditions, which differ between the EU and US.

For instance:

  • Maximum speed limits are higher in the US

  • Payload and trailer cargo volume differ significantly between both markets

  • In terms of CO2/g/m³km (volume), EU trucks perform less well simply because US trucks can legally transport 21% more volume

Volume Comparison European union flag USA flag icon
Interior length 13.62m 16.00m
Interior width 2.47m 2.50m
Interior height 2.75m 2.80m
Interior volume 92.5m3 112.0m3

In the EU, efficiency is currently constrained by the legal conditions on maximum permitted weight, dimensions and speed. Hence, road freight efficiency in Europe could be greatly improved by changing vehicle legislation.

For instance, by allowing the cross-border use of longer combination vehicles in Europe, which is already common practice in the US, truck manufacturers would achieve a 14% higher fuel efficiency.

Cross border truck 14% higher fuel efficiency infographic

Moreover, the lack of tractor length restrictions in the US results in an air drag benefit for American vehicles.

Nonetheless, when using the weight metric, ie fuel consumption per tonne-kilometre (CO2 g/tkm), EU trucks emit 16% less CO2 emissions than US trucks. This metric is also known as the ‘work-done principle’.

When looking at the fuel consumption per tonne-kilometre (CO2 g/tkm), EU trucks emit 16% less CO2 emissions than US trucks

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What progress has been made?

The automobile industry remains committed to continuing to lower greenhouse gas emissions, through the development of more fuel-efficient technologies (eg variable valve timing, turbocharging, stop-start systems and direct injection technology) and ongoing investments into alternative powertrains.

The EU has set the most challenging targets for reducing CO2 emissions from cars in the world. By 2021, CO2 emissions from new cars coming on to the roads will be 42% less than the new cars in 2005. This is ahead of the targets set by the EU for 2030.

42% CO2 decrease by 2021 infographic

This comes on top of the significant CO2 reductions already delivered by car makers. In 2015 average new car emissions were 119.6g CO2/km compared to 186g CO2/km in 1995 – a 36% decrease in just two decades.

36% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1995 to 2015 infographic

These CO2 savings have been achieved in conjunction with decreases in pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particles (PM) through the introduction of the Euro standards – despite these initiatives requiring conflicting measures.

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The EU’s automobile industry
has made great strides in reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles

84% reduction in NOx and 90% reduction in PM infographic

The European automotive
industry is the continent’s number one investor in R&D, spending €44.7 billion on innovation each year

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What is the best way forward?

Identifying the best possible response to the climate change challenge is a major priority for Europe. It is a key focus of the European Union’s ongoing policy development in the context of the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, and is also important in relation to the international climate change negotiations.

Under the 2030 climate and energy package, EU regulators propose ambitious political targets for reducing CO2 emissions.

The automobile industry welcomes the European Commission’s decarbonisation initiative across all transport modes in Europe, and has already made significant improvements to new vehicle CO2 performance with an ongoing commitment to do more.

Cars and vans account for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU

Source: European Environment Agency

We need to move beyond vehicle technology alone by also looking at how vehicles are used

However, manufacturers have little influence over how cars, vans and trucks are used. For this reason, Europe should consider a ‘whole of society’ approach that adopts an integrated strategy to tackling road transport emissions. This means not only reducing CO2 emissions from the vehicle itself, but also looking at all factors influencing emissions during the lifetime of the vehicle.

Such a holistic approach will reduce CO2 emissions more effectively by drawing on a full spectrum of solutions, whether this relates to the vehicle itself, alternative powertrains, faster fleet renewal, intelligent transport systems (ITS), improving infrastructure or altering driver behaviour. Combined with the industry’s continuous improvements to vehicle technology, these measures have the potential to combat CO2 emission more successfully.

Measures to combat CO2 more effectively


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More effective

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The current system has limited environmental benefits, as it focuses on new vehicle technology alone. A more effective approach will look at the full fleet and how it is used.

In other words, we need to adopt an integrated approach to tackling road transport emissions. This means focusing not only on reducing emissions from new vehicles, but also on factors influencing emissions throughout the lifetime of the vehicle.

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More balanced

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New measures should be more effective and balanced, whilst safeguarding industry competitiveness.

Looking ahead, the relative costs of reducing carbon emissions must be similar and proportionate across all sectors. CO2 reductions should be balanced between ETS (the EU emissions trading system) and non-ETS sectors, across transport modes, and in Europe versus the rest of the world.

STUDY SHOWS: By 2020, average emissions of new passenger cars will need to be reduced by 39% compared to their 2005 level. And while the automobile industry is dedicated to achieving this goal, it should be noted that this compares to a 10% reduction expected from other non-ETS sectors (including buildings, agriculture and waste) and a 21% reduction expected from ETS sectors (such as power stations and combustion plants) during the same timeframe.

Read the full study

Expected emissions reduction by 2020

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The automotive industry is a key pillar of the European economy, contributing 6.3% to the EU GDP and, directly and indirectly, employing 12.2 million Europeans (5.6% of total EU employment).

Given the range of factors that contribute to the level of CO2 emissions from each individual vehicle, and the fact that further investments by the automobile industry will come at a growing cost, it makes no sense for the full burden of reducing CO2 emissions to be borne by the automobile industry alone – especially in the context of a highly competitive global market in vehicle manufacture.

The automotive industry is one of the most regulated sectors in Europe - subject to around 80 EU Directives and over 70 international UNECE regulatory agreements. Regulations relating to safety, the environment, type approval of vehicles and taxation have already added significantly to the industry’s costs.

Effectively joining forces to reduce CO2 emissions will allow us to drive down total road transport emissions, but will also ensure that Europe’s strategic automotive industry retains its competitiveness in the decades to come.

Therefore, policymakers should assure that comparable efforts are made by all sectors.

STUDY SHOWS: The 2020 CO2 target is estimated to impose an additional

Car prices have, over the same period, increased only in line with inflation. From being the most profitable region in 2007, generating €15 billion profits, the European region became the least profitable, with aggregated losses of €1 billion in 2012.

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Only a level playing field will allow the EU automotive industry to make the long-term investments that are necessary to tackle future challenges

STUDY SHOWS: McKinsey estimates that between 1998-2011, regulatory requirements and other improvements such as ESP, airbags, fuel efficiency improvement and weight reduction increased production costs by 3-4% per year. More recent environmental regulations, such as the new noise limit, eCall, the 2020 CO2 target and Euro 6 with the Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test, are expected to add a further 24% to the manufacturing costs of a car by 2020.

Read the full study

Regulatory costs

The 2020 target is set to impose an additional 13-billion-Euro fleetwide capital cost infographic

Source: Regulation and Competitiveness of the EU Automotive Industry, FTI, May 2016

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