Different technologies will be used for the different stages of heavy-duty transportation.

September marked the first time in history when hybrid, plug-in, and fully electric cars combined outsold diesels in Europe. There’s little doubt this trend will expand even further in the coming months and years, as the Old continent is preparing for zero-emission mobility by the middle of the century. Some of the world’s largest truckmakers have also just agreed the sector will go CO2-free relatively soon.

Daimler, Scania, Man, Volvo, Daf, Iveco, and Ford have signed a pledge to stop selling vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2040, a full decade earlier than initially planned. The industry aims to spend between €50bn and €100bn ($61bn-$122 bn) on developing hydrogen, battery, and clean fuel technologies.

“If we can make this happen, we need to work all together,” Scania chief executive Henrik Henriksson, who also chairs ACEA’s commercial vehicle board, told the Financial Times. The carmaker association is working with the German-funded Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on the best technologies and approaches, which include higher taxes on carbon across the continent. 

The industry divides heavy-duty transportation into two main segments - inner-city deliveries and long-distance haulage. The former can be more easily pushed towards zero-emission operations but the latter is more dependable on combustion engines because of the long distances and charging times.

“It’s the backbone of any society in the world today, but we have to recognize that they are very dependent on the internal combustion engines to transport all the goods of every industry,” Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute, commented about heavy trucks.

All this probably means there will be diversification when it comes to the green technologies for the large trucks of tomorrow. Battery tech will be preserved for in-city deliveries, while hydrogen is expected to be a more likely scenario for the largest long-distance trucks. Biofuels are seen as a short-term solution.

“There is no silver bullet; it won’t be that one technology will rule everything, there will be parallel technologies over time. They will come in different paces, but if we sit and wait for the perfect technology to emerge we will burn the planet,” Henriksson added.