European legislation: Paying the price in the quest for ‘green’ vans

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EU bureaucrats are increasingly turning the environmental screw on vehicle manufacturers, forcing them by law to produce ever cleaner internal combustion engines.

As a result, even van fleet operators who don’t care about environmental concerns will be affected as invariably, the cost of the technology to produce cleaner engines will be passed on to the customer. Much is written in the pages of Fleet Van about Euro4, Euro5 and even Euro6 emissions standards and it’s a subject that will run and run as manufacturers increasingly struggle to meet their targets.

Nigel Emms, director, brand and communications at Iveco, pointed out: “Demanding Euro5 and Euro6 emissions standards is a law of diminishing returns, because when you go on doing this long enough, you end up in a position where the benefit achieved becomes marginal and the costs astronomical.” He has a point. It was relatively cheap and easy to make the dirty diesel engines of the 1990s cleaner.

But today’s offerings are so clean that it’s difficult to see how technology could improve them greatly.

Iveco’s tack has been to offer a range of more environmentally-friendly alternatives such as CNG and electric-powered Dailys, but so far both have not sold in great numbers.

In fact, Iveco sold no electric Dailys at all last year, leading to doubts over whether electric vehicles will ever become a main part of the van fleet scene.

Back to the diesel engine – which increasingly looks like being the default choice for fleets for many years to come – and the EU has more plans ahead for cleaning up Europe’s air.

Eurocrats are planning to force manufacturers to have an average CO2 figure across their ranges of 175g/km phased in between 2014 to 2016 and then 150g/km by 2020.

There is an obvious flaw in this plan which none of the environmental experts seem to have taken into consideration – while Ford can bring down its average CO2 figure by having vans such as the low-emitting and diminutive Fiestavan on offer, other makers such as Iveco and Mercedes-Benz, who at present only sell large vans – cannot.

As large panel vans tend to pump out more than 200g/km of CO2, it will be virtually impossible for these two manufacturers to meet the EU demands.

Particularly scathing of the EU’s plans is Steve Bridge, director of van sales and marketing at Mercedes-Benz.

He told Fleet Van: “The EU targets have been set in the same way as car targets are set, but vans are not cars and they shouldn’t be treated as such. Rather than setting limits for grams per kilometre, they should be set for vans on a grams per kilometre per tonne carried.”

The problem with the present targets is that these would be achieved if, say, fleets abandoned vans that carried one tonne of cargo and transported that load instead in three smaller vans carrying 333kg each.

Although the target of CO2 reduction would be achieved, those three vans would in fact produce more CO2 than the one original van.

Bridge said: “The danger is that this legislation could well push fleets into smaller vans which would achieve the EU targets but the CO2 emissions are higher.”

One way that Mercedes-Benz is aiming to toe the EU’s environmental line is by launching a new small van this year.

The Citan is basically a Renault Kangoo which has been “Merc-erised” with various tweaks and twiddles.

As the Kangoo is offered in electric format – with a CO2 figure of zero – this will help to cancel out the heavier CO2 emissions of the larger Sprinter.

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