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EU takes aim at China with new clean bus plan

EU takes aim at China with new clean bus plan

Chinese companies control about a third of the EU’s electric bus market, and Brussels wants European manufacturers to up their game.

The European Commission is mulling mandating that all new city buses sold by 2030 be zero-emissions — and the target is aimed as much at Beijing as it is at meeting the bloc's climate goals.

The bus provision would be part of a broader review of emission standards for trucks and other big vehicles that is expected to land February 14, according to an internal agenda document seen by POLITICO.

Chinese bus manufacturers are gaining a growing share of the EU market, helped by that country's rapid electrification of transport and its domination of global battery supply chains. Zero-emissions buses have about a third of the EU and U.K. bus markets, and Chinese companies control about 30 percent of that, according to an estimate by Chatrou CME Solutions, a consultancy.

By setting an early green bus target, the aim is to spur European companies to move faster, according to two officials briefed on the Commission's thinking.

The heavy transport standards are a follow-up to legislation that bans the sale of new combustion engine-installed cars and vans from 2035, which has now been agreed and only needs a formal sign-off.

Legislating for clean city buses even earlier would put the EU roughly on track with California, which plans a 2029 phaseout for new gasoline and diesel bus sales. It would also align with what Europe’s big vehicle makers are already thinking: The likes of Volvo, Daimler and MAN have committed to selling many more electric buses by the end of the decade.

“This is where the market is already heading,” said Fedor Unterlohner, who works on clean vehicles at green lobby Transport & Environment and backs an even earlier 2027 green bus-maker law. “It’s locking in what the industry is already doing.”

A group of European cities including Copenhagen, Hamburg, Milan, Paris, Rotterdam and Seville have also called for a 2027 phaseout.


All aboard the green express


Chinese companies, such as Yutong and BYD or joint ventures with European manufacturers, have been setting their sights on the Continent's city depots and cobbled streets.

Zhengzhou-based Yutong says its e-buses are already on the road in 21 European cities, including in parts of Denmark, France and Slovakia, while BYD, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, has signed deals to send its vehicles to Spain, Finland, Hungary and the Netherlands among other places.

Transport executives say the possible Commission plan is aimed both at getting European manufacturers to make more e-buses as well as pushing local authorities to go electric, a job partly done by the Clean Vehicles Directive that sets procurement targets for local governments.

"We have had electric buses on the market for years," said one executive from a European manufacturer. "It’s a question of public authorities making the shift. We are talking about cities."

The new rules would amp up existing heavy vehicle greenhouse gas legislation agreed in 2018 as the EU’s first standards for such vehicles. The Commission reckons trucks, buses and coaches combined account for around a quarter of CO2 emissions from the transport sector — and those greenhouse gases have to be cut for the bloc to reach its climate targets.

Emissions from freight are on the rise thanks to a boom in e-commerce over the last decade, while efforts to get people to abandon their cars and switch to buses are expected to drive up the total kilometers traveled by mass transit vehicles.

The Commission is looking at ways to eventually end the sale of new diesel and gasoline-powered trucks, but the thinking is that such a measure would only start to apply by around 2040 — so a move to mandate clean buses by 2030 would change that market a decade earlier.

Publicly, the industry is cautioning against any rapid ban of internal combustion engines — known as ICE.

Manufacturers are against a "general ICE phase-out date or the setting of a 100 percent target because internal combustion engines, powered by fossil-free fuels, will continue to play an important long-term role in a small, but important range of heavy-duty applications," according to a letter to Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans signed by Volvo's CEO Martin Lundstedt, also commercial vehicles chairman with industry lobby ACEA.

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