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Vice-President and Commissioner for transport
Speech Building a sustainable and efficient future for European road transport
European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) Policy Event
6 December 2012
Ladies and gentlemen
Many thanks for inviting me to speak to you today.
I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you the challenges and constraints faced today by European transport - and by road vehicle manufacturers in particular.
We know the main problem areas: climate change, congestion, global competition, dependence on oil. These issues are not about to go away. At the same time, transport demand can be expected to rise in the foreseeable future.
In the automotive sector, Europe’s position is world-class and we cannot afford to let it fall behind. The car and truck industry is critically important to our economy - not only as a major producer and employer. It provides the means for millions of passengers to travel and many thousands of businesses to prosper.
Road freight is likely to grow and carry the bulk of all goods for the next few years at least. At the moment, we are not well prepared to cope with the expected growth. In fact, we are struggling just to manage present levels of demand, in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. With millions of trucks travelling daily on Europe’s saturated roads, we have to improve the situation.
This is not only about investing hard cash in transport – although if we fail to invest enough, our networks will just get more crowded and inefficient. It is also about how to make the best use of the infrastructure and capacity we have today.
Ladies and gentlemen
I would like to touch on four areas directly related to road transport where we can make a real difference to transport’s economic and environmental efficiency. And we plan to act quite soon, as I will explain.
These areas are:
- road charging
- opening up market access
- developing and deploying alternative transport fuels
- revising the rules on maximum weights and dimensions of heavy good vehicles
Firstly, on road charging. Yesterday, I hosted a conference on fair and efficient road pricing, which closed a comprehensive public consultation with 300 responses from across Europe. For those of you who could not participate, I would like to repeat some of what I said there.
Our transport network, built up over many generations, has allowed the EU to become a world leader in export industries, manufacturing and logistics. It is this excellent road network which has helped European car and truck manufacturers become the world champions that they – you – are today.
But Europe is not investing enough to keep this valuable asset maintained.
There is a clear financing gap. Take Germany, often considered as among Europe’s best in terms of its infrastructure and roads. Germany’s annual underinvestment in road infrastructure is estimated at €2.5 billion, for every year since 2002. And that is just for maintenance - not for building new roads. The situation in many other Member States is even more worrying.
Public funding clearly has its limits. User charging offers a fair and efficient alternative source of funding to generate the resources we need to maintain and develop infrastructure. So the costs for keeping infrastructure in good shape are paid by those who really use it and contribute to its wear and tear.
Thanks to recent technological progress, toll levels can be varied according to a vehicle’s type and characteristics, as well as the time and place of its use.
This way, road charges can be used to send precise price signals for efficient infrastructure use. They can help shape more sustainable transport behaviour and give incentives for consumers to buy and use cleaner vehicles.
Road charging is also a way to manage congestion, which causes unnecessary emissions and waste of fuel, as well as loss of productivity. Your industry in particular relies on timely deliveries to optimise manufacturing processes.
Congestion costs EU businesses and citizens the equivalent of 1% of GDP. In more densely built areas, the cost is more than 2%: in other words, more than the entire annual EU budget.
The second element of next year’s road package will concern access to road haulage markets.
Road transport is one of the only service sectors in the EU Single Market where access to domestic markets is still strongly regulated and restricted, hampering economic efficiency.
Today, hauliers are not allowed to take up loads as and where they become available, which complicates matching transport offer and demand. Uncompetitive companies are artificially protected from competition on certain markets by administrative barriers.
The European Commission is looking at further opening domestic road markets, by facilitating permanent establishment and by increasing possibilities for hauliers to temporarily access national markets through cabotage.
Lifting market access restrictions will help save fuel and reduce empty returns. It will raise road transport’s economic and environmental performance.
At the same time, social standards would be strengthened and the loopholes in today’s legislation closed off. The rules would also be applied more effectively than they are today.
Next - the Commission will very soon propose a comprehensive long-term strategy for gradually substituting fossil fuels with alternative energy.
One of the reasons for Europe’s almost total dependence on oil as a transport energy source is customers’ hesitation to buy alternative fuel vehicles because of missing infrastructure for recharging and refuelling.
Today, Europe’s network to supply electricity, hydrogen and liquefied natural gas for transport is simply not sufficient to enable market take-up of these fuels. Our plan is to provide a reliable legal environment to stimulate private investment in a new market base. To create EU-wide conditions to boost customer acceptance, I believe we need to set targets to build the necessary infrastructure and make it compatible everywhere.
If there is to be a true single market for alternative fuels, there must also be common standards for infrastructure so people can operate and recharge their cars in the same way across Europe. EU countries should also set up national policy plans for all alternative fuels.
I believe this new customer base and market has great potential for European business and manufacturers.
Then, early next year, the Commission will propose modernising EU rules on maximum weights and dimensions of heavy goods vehicles. Some of these date back to the 1980s. They urgently need updating to reflect recent technological progress, particularly the development of more aerodynamic trucks.
Our global competitors have already successfully commercialised trucks with more aerodynamic profiles and devices. With our rules as they are now, EU manufacturers risk lagging behind in this important area.
Our proposed updates would allow more rounded design of trucks and retrofitting trailers with aerodynamic devices, which could allow fuel savings of 10% on long-haul trips.
The revision will also allow European hauliers to catch up with the evolution in global containerisation standards by allowing 45-foot containers to be transported by road as part of an intermodal journey. The European Union would also become better integrated in the global transport system, where these containers are increasingly accepted as a deep-sea standard.
New vehicles meeting the latest Euro-standards, as well as electric and hybrid vehicles, are heavier than standard vehicles. The Commission may introduce certain specific provisions for vehicles using new propulsion systems, to encourage uptake of these vehicles without sacrificing loading capacity.
There are some clear advantages to modernising the existing rules.
It will give EU vehicle manufacturers a good business opportunity. It will cut fuel consumption and operating costs for hauliers. And it will reduce emissions.
Ladies and gentlemen
Briefly, these are just a few elements in the Commission’s broader strategy that aims to prepare our road sector for a more sustainable and efficient future.
There are of course many other important policy areas that will also contribute to this: our strengthened research and innovation strategy, the long-term vision for urban logistics, the revised policy for the Trans-European Transport Network, to name just a few.
We look forward to working closely with you in all of these areas, and for the success of our road package next year - which promises to be a very busy and important one for the future of European road transport.
Thank you for your attention.