Fuel savings will offset price of hitting EU emissions targets

Van emissions graphic

As legislators in Brussels and Whitehall drive commercial vehicle manufacturers to produce ever-more fuel-efficient, low-emission vans and trucks (average CO2 emissions for new light commercial vehicles fell by 1.8% in 2014 – see Fleet News, May 14), fleet operators are benefiting from cost savings delivered by the new technology.

Moves to improve air quality are at the heart of the legislators’ drive that ultimately could see low emission zones introduced across the UK.

Scientists estimate at least 29,000 people die early in the UK every year from heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes and cancer as a result of air pollution.

Following a five-year legal battle culminating in the UK Supreme Court (Fleet News May 14), secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Liz Truss is compiling a plan to clean up illegal levels of air pollution. The document must be submitted to the European Commission by December 31 and could have a major impact on fleets.

The court case referred to 16 regions across the UK where nitrogen dioxide (NOx) limits were being breached. ClientEarth, the lawyer group that brought the court case, has called for a national network of low emission zones.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) expressed support for that position and in a five-point strategy tackling the problem of road transport-based air pollution called on the Government to establish a national framework for ultra-low emission zones.

The Government, meanwhile, says its review of air quality plans includes the use of both individual low emission zones and a national approach. A low emission zone covering most of Greater London was introduced in 2008 to encourage the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles in the capital to become cleaner. There are also low emission zones in Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham and Oxford, but they affect only buses.

However, 15 local authorities across England have been allocated government funding to develop zones, including Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Maidstone, Newcastle, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick and York.

Since January 2012, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) entering London’s low emission zone must meet Euro 4 emission standards, with light commercial vehicles (LCVs) meeting Euro3 standards, or penalty charges apply.

Meanwhile, from September 7, 2020, an ultra-low emission zone will be introduced in the capital, to cover the same area currently covered by the congestion charge. HGV and diesel LCVs will then have to meet Euro 6 emission standards with petrol LCVs meeting Euro 4 levels.

Transport for London and Mayor Boris Johnson say they are giving fleet operators a five-year window to ensure vehicles met the standard or a daily charge, of £12.50 for LCVs and £100 for HGVs, would apply.

At a European level, Euro 6 emission standards came into force for all new type approval HGVs on January 1, 2013, and all new vehicles 12 months later.

For LCVs, all new type approvals have to meet the Euro 6 standard from September 1 this year and all newly registered vehicles 12 months later.


What is the future for CO2 emissions?

The European Union has already set CO2 emission standards for new LCVs into the next decade.

The law requires that new vans registered in the EU do not emit more than an average of 175g/km of CO2 by 2017, although in reality the target has already been achieved, as the average van sold last year emitted 169.2g/km. For 2020, the target has been tightened to 147g/km.

“Even if the purchase price of vehicles rises slightly, this will be more than compensated for by fuel savings over the vehicle’s lifetime”

EU spokesman

To meet those tightening emission targets, LCV manufacturers are investing in a range of new technologies to make vehicles more fuel-efficient.

The EU calculates that for vans, the 2020 target will lead to savings in annual fuel consumption of 16% compared with the 2017 target. For an average van, that means estimated fuel cost savings of about £290 in the first year.

An EU spokesman says: “It is not certain that the cost of meeting the new targets for vans will be passed on by manufacturers to buyers. However, even if the purchase price of vehicles rises slightly, this will be more than compensated for by fuel savings over the vehicle’s lifetime.”

The long-term EU strategy for reducing HGV emissions has yet to be established following the introduction of Euro 6, which focused on NOx and particulate reduction.

Engine manufacturer Cummins believes Euro 7 emission standards for HGVs could be in place by 2020 and says “the next target in emissions reductions is unquestionably going to be CO2”.

Despite the economic importance of fuel consumption, CO2 emissions from HGVs are currently neither measured nor reported. The strategy therefore focuses on measures to certify, report and monitor emissions, which the EU says is an essential first step towards curbing them.

Consequently, it has developed a computer simulation tool to potentially measure CO2 emissions on a grams-per-tonne/km or per cubic-metre/km and will use it as the basis for a legislation proposal later this year.

When that legislation is in force, further measures to curb CO2 emissions may be considered, with the most likely option being to set mandatory limits from newly registered HGVs, as is already done for cars and vans.

However, other measures could include the development of modern infrastructure supporting alternative fuels for HGVs, smarter pricing on infrastructure usage, effective and coherent use of vehicle taxation by member states and other market-based mechanisms.

Road transport is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, after power generation, contributing about a fifth of total CO2 emissions.

What’s more, not withstanding legislative measures and vehicle technology improvements, emissions have been rising due to more freight being transported by commercial vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturers are focused on delivering fuel efficiency and emission improvements through the adoption of innovative engine and vehicle technologies.

Mercedes-Benz, a major supplier of both LCVs and HGVs, says it is not waiting for legislation. The manufacturer has  offered Euro 6-compliant engines across its commercial vehicle range since 2012 and will complete the roll-out with Euro 6 on the Citan later this year.

It also points to the availability of stop-start technology on LCVs since 2005 and has recently introduced it as standard on the Vito. BlueEfficiency, the marque’s fuel efficiency package first introduced on cars, is also to become available on LCVs and will feature lower displacement engines and a number of other innovations to deliver improved fuel efficiency and lower improved CO2.


More manufacturer reaction

Claiming that “overall economic efficiency” was given top priority, Mercedes-Benz’s truck division has launched Fuel Challenger, which sees fleets take delivery of an Actros demonstrator for two weeks putting it head-to-head with one of its own vehicles, then measuring the diesel consumption of both side-by-side.

Demand from UK fleet operators has been so high that the brand has doubled the number of truck demonstrators, across different configurations, on its fleet.

Mercedes estimates that fuel makes up about 50-60% of HGV-related expenditure and the Actros range features a number of fuel-saving technologies, including Predictive Powertrain Control, a ‘see-ahead’ cruise control system that uses GPS and 3D maps with the automatic shifting system to adapt driving style to the topography.

In the UK, 83 fleets have taken the challenge so far. Mercedes claims the average mpg improvement versus a fleet’s existing truck has been 7.7%, with one case of up to 22%.

Volkswagen has introduced its suite of BlueMotion Technology, first seen on cars, to commercial vehicles, equipping them with modifications such as stop-start and battery regeneration systems.

Looking further forward, Volkswagen has also designed a number of concepts such as electric city delivery vans. Although they are not currently viable, a spokeswoman says they demonstrate the manufacturer’s commitment to the environment and future mobility solutions.

Renault, which has an electric version of the Kangoo and the Twizy Cargo in its LCV line-up, points to its engineering expertise and involvement in motorsport to optimise combustion engine LCVs.

Higher-power versions are equipped with twin-turbo technology, which Renault claims breaks new ground in the field of engine downsizing, enabling the performance of a 2.0-litre engine to be achieved with 15% more fuel efficiency – compared with the dCi 115 engine in the previous generation Trafic.

The new twin-turbo engines make use of a number of technologies developed from Renault’s involvement in Formula 1, including the use of a transverse water flow system to improve engine cooling; U-Flex piston rings that achieve a better balance between friction and lubrication; and DLC (diamond-like carbon) super finishing to reduce friction. All are said to contribute to mpg improvements.

Author: John Charles

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