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Key Advancements in the Transport Industry

Long exposure of highway with city in background

The beginning

The importance of transport began with the invention of the wheel and axle 5,500 years ago in the Bronze Age.

Horse-drawn wheeled transport was replaced by steam ‘horsepower’ in the early 19th century. The internal combustion engine (ICE) became the motive force of transport in 1896 replacing steam when Rudolf Diesel successfully patented the diesel engine.

At the same time, a Serbian scientist named Nikolas Tesla successfully invented and patented his alternating current electric motor. In hindsight, it is interesting to speculate whether the existential environmental threat we face today could have been averted had the electric motor prevailed over the fossil fuel energy source that has dominated our transport industry for a century.

Just over 100 years ago, German engineer Rudolf Diesel travelled to the UK to attend a meeting with an organization called the Consolidated Diesel Company UK. In 1896 he was contracted by MAN (now owned by VW Group under Traton) to develop his patented diesel engine that would eventually power trucks, trains and shipping around the world.

Unfortunately, Diesel did not survive his journey to the UK and was announced missing at sea on 29 September 1913. His death has remained at the centre of many conspiracy theories; today, 100 years later, we face the prospect of the potential ‘death of diesel’, not from a secret assassination squad, but from environmental forces that will change the way trucks are operated and affect the future of millions of people engaged in the transportation industries.

Dirty diesel, clean electric

Many forecasts promote the idea that diesel has a short life and is now considered a 'dirty fuel'. The International Energy Agency predicts that the oil industry may see a 40% reduction in demand from transport over the next 10-15 years, but also forecasts that 70% of long-haul transport will still be carried using fossil-fuelled powertrains.

Finding sustainable transport options is a journey we are all going to be taking when facing up to the reality of global warming and climate change.

The development of electric cars started in the last decade of the 20th century and it has taken 20 years for that product to gain traction. An electric car named after Nikolas Tesla was developed in 2003 by a group of engineers led by South African entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Tesla and Musk have become the Rudolph Diesel and Ford Motor Company of the 21st century. Tesla aims to build one million cars a year and dominate the electric car market for many years to come.

Commercial vehicles in the light and medium sectors are now getting serious attention, but the future electrification of heavy trucks demands very different action from manufacturers and regulatory authorities.

Transport in the spotlight

The transport sector represents almost a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of urban air pollution. Within this sector, road transport is by far the biggest emitter accounting for more than 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions from transport in 2014.

Despite some improvements in fuel efficiency in recent years, these emissions are still rising, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic.

Europe's answer to the emission reduction challenge in the transport sector is an irreversible shift to low-emission mobility. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will need to be at least 60% lower than in 1990 and be firmly on the path towards zero.

The expected benefits include around 54 million tonnes of CO2 saved in the period 2020 to 2030 and savings at the pump amounting to around €25,000 in the first five years for a new truck bought in 2025 and about €55,000 in the first five years for a truck bought in 2030.

In 2025, the average CO2 emissions of new heavy-duty vehicles will have to be 15% lower than the average emissions in the reference period (1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020). In 2030, the average emissions have to be 30% lower.

As a first step, the CO2 emission standards will cover large trucks, which account for 65% to 70% of all CO2 emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.

UK leads the way

The UK was one of the first countries to recognize and act on the economic and security threats of climate change. We have been among the most successful countries in the developed world in growing our economy while reducing emissions. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by 44% while our economy has grown by two-thirds. This means that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading the G7 countries in growth in national income over this period.

The Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, through a process of setting ‘carbon budgets’.

In order to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets (2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032) we will need a significant acceleration in the pace of decarbonization. Leaving the EU will not affect our statutory commitments under our domestic Climate Change Act 2008 and indeed our binding targets are more ambitious than those set by EU legislation.