Would CO₂ mandates increase the age of the Australian truck fleet?

Green grass truck concept.

There has been much discussion regarding the recent announcements by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon Catherine King and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon Chris Bowen, of light vehicle CO₂ mandates as outlined in the Australian Government’s New Vehicle Efficiency Standard (NVES) Consultation Paper.

As I detailed in this column last month, the Consultation Paper was developed jointly by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DoIT).

With DoIT taking the lead, the regulation will be implemented as a motor vehicle directive.

While the intent of the Government’s proposed New Vehicle Efficiency Standard is to improve the CO₂ performance of light vehicles, with the Consultation Paper detailed that all vehicle below 3.5t GVM will be captured by the proposed Standard, the Paper also detailed that “some” vehicles between 3.5t and 4.5t GVM would also be captured.

I also detailed in my column last month that this is the first time that light trucks and the heavy end of the van sector have been flagged as being in scope of such pending CO₂ regulations.

As previously detailed, the Consultation Paper notes that it is not the government’s intent to capture “working trucks and vans” in the Vehicle Efficiency scheme.

In fact, the Paper lists the type of applications that would be excluded for vehicles above 3.5t GVM, this includes, freight/cargo trucks and vans, emergency services vehicles, military vehicles, law enforcement vehicles, agricultural vehicles, construction and mining vehicles, motorhomes, horse trucks and passenger busses/vans.

No doubt this is not an exhaustive list, with the potential for more “working truck and van” applications to be added.

While industry awaits the final outcome of the Government’s CO₂ regulations, including the exemptions for “working trucks and vans”, the question has been posed to the Truck Industry Council (TIC): Would CO₂ mandates increase the age of the Australian truck fleet? This is no doubt an interesting question.

With regard to light vehicles the Government has responded by stating: “there is no evidence that vehicle efficiency schemes lead to an increase in vehicle fleet age.”

TIC questions this statement based upon the latest light vehicle data out of Europe from European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).

Based on light vehicle (car and SUV) registration data from all European Union (EU) countries, ACEA data shows that the average age of this vehicle segment in 2019 was 11.5 years, in 2020 this had risen to 11.8 years, in 2021 to 12.0 years and by 2022 the average age was 12.3 years.

Over the same time period, light commercial vehicles (vans and utes) in the EU have aged from 11.6 years in 2019 to 12.5 years in 2022. Is it a coincidence that the EU introduced significantly more stringent CO₂ mandates for new car, SUV and light commercial vehicle from 2019?

TIC believes not, heeding the need for caution.

Add to this analysis, in Western Europe many older cars and trucks find a second life in Eastern Europe, in the USA older trucks migrate to South American countries, whilst trucks from advanced Asian markets, like Japan and Korea, find a second home in less developed Asian countries, Africa and even New Zealand and Australia through our used vehicle imports schemes.

Thus, keeping the fleet age in these countries lower than that found in Australia. However, Australia is an island nation and the exporting of used cars and trucks from Australia to other parts of the world simply does not occur. Vehicles remain within our shores, often being rebuilt/refurbished a number of times before they are eventually scrapped.

This is a significant cause of our very old truck fleet that has an average age of 14 years. TIC believes that the light vehicle scenario that is playing out in Europe due to increased CO₂ mandates, coupled with our island state, would almost certainly lead to an increase in the Australian truck fleet age.

With the Australian road toll already too high and heavy vehicles being over-represented in those crashes, this is partly to do with the fact that the older trucks in our nation’s truck fleet do not feature the advanced safety features found in newer trucks.

Further, older trucks are more polluting, leading to adverse health outcomes for our population. An older truck fleet will not realise government ambitions, nor will it benefit Australia, or Australians.

Hence TIC cautions government against mandating vehicle emission standards for trucks without significant research and consultation with industry, so as to ensure that unintended and perverse outcomes are avoided.

Tony McMullan CEO,
Truck Industry Council

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