Global overview of government targets for phasing out internal combustion engine medium and heavy trucks

As the world copes with extreme weather events, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that the burning of gasoline and diesel has on our changing climate. To combat transport emissions, a transition toward zero-emission vehicles such as battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles seems to be on everyone’s lips nowadays. While this is often connected with passenger cars, let’s not forget about trucks.

It’s true, yes, that electric truck registrations are at a nascent stage. In the European Union, only 0.4% of new medium- and heavy-duty truck registrations in 2020 were electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells, or electric road systems. In the United States, the share of such zero-emission heavy-duty trucks in all new heavy-duty truck sales was just 0.03% in 2020. Still, some analysts predict faster electrification than current adoption rates suggest, thanks to the potential economic benefits of electric trucks in a cost-sensitive industry. However, for this potential to become reality, the electric truck industry must achieve economies of scale, and this is where policy can play a crucial role.

Governments are beginning to make long-term commitments for a 100% phase out of internal combustion engine medium- and heavy-duty trucks. As illustrated in the global map below, four countries—Austria, Cape Verde, Norway, and Pakistan—and the regional governments of California and the southern Chinese province of Hainan have made commitments as part of official policy documents such us mobility or transport plans or by executive order.

Figure 1. Government targets to phase out internal combustion engine trucks. (This map is presented without prejudice as to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries, and the name of any territory, city, or area.)

So far, Austria, Cape Verde, and California are the only governments aiming for the 100% ambition level. Austria’s target is to have 100% of new registrations of heavy-duty vehicles smaller than 18 tonnes be zero-emission starting in 2030, and for those greater than 18 tonnes, starting in 2035. This is outlined in the Mobility Master Plan 2030 published in mid-2021. The African nation of Cape Verde’s 100% new sales target for 2035 is based on the government’s Electric Mobility Policy Charter from 2019. For medium trucks, interim new electric vehicle acquisition targets are 15% in 2025 and 35% in 2030. For heavy trucks, an interim target of 25% of new sales is set for 2030. In addition, Cape Verde has set a target to have all vehicles on the road including trucks—that is, not only new sales but the complete medium- and heavy-duty vehicle stock—be electric by 2050. California similarly aims to achieve a zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty truck fleet by 2045 based on an executive order by the governor from September 2020. The order states that “all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles shall be 100 percent zero emission by 2045 where feasible.”

At an ambition level below 100% are governments such as Pakistan, the Chinese province of Hainan, and Norway. Pakistan aims to have 90% of new heavy-duty truck sales be electric by 2040, phased in from 30% in 2030. This target was approved in 2019 as part of the country’s National Electric Vehicles Policy. Hainan has also set targets for sanitation vehicles, to reach half of new sales being electric by 2019 as part of its Clean Energy Vehicle Development Plan from early 2019. Norway has set a 50% zero-emission sales target for new heavy-duty trucks by 2030, as outlined in the National Transport Plan 2018–2029 from 2017 and confirmed in the most recent version published in 2021.

These commitments send important signals to vehicle manufacturers about where policy is headed. There is also the Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in July 2020 by the governors of 15 U.S. states (all listed in Figure 1) and the mayor of the District of Columbia; pursuant to this, all sales of new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in their jurisdictions are to be zero-emission by no later than 2050, phased in from at least 30% by no later than 2030. Additionally, several of these governments sent a letter to President Biden at the beginning of the year asking him to set standards ensuring that new sales of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles nationwide are zero-emission by 2045.

Outside the United States, the Netherlands is spearheading a global MoU to set zero-emission sales targets for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles of 30% by 2030 and 100% between 2040 and 2050. The Netherlands is also encouraging nations to be even more ambitious than this. While the text of the MoU is not settled and it’s not expected to be launched until COP26 in November, Austria, Canada, Chile, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden expressed their support during the 12th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM12) meeting hosted by Chile on May 2021.

Phase-out commitments are likely to be most effective if they are accompanied by legally binding policies. California is the only government in the world which has thus far adopted legally binding targets for manufacturers to gradually increase their sales share of electric trucks, and it has done so as part of the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) regulation. Manufacturers seeking to certify chassis or complete vehicles with combustion engines will be required to sell zero-emission trucks as an increasing percentage of their annual California sales from 2024 to 2035. By 2025, 11% of new rigid trucks heavier than 6.3 tonnes must be zero-emission. The targets for this vehicle segment increase to 50% by 2030 and 75% by 2035. The targets for new zero-emission tractor-trailers are 7%, 30%, and 40% by 2025, 2030, and 2035, respectively.

Other governments such as the United Kingdom are considering a phase-out, as well. The country is currently consulting on a date for phasing out the sale of new gasoline and diesel heavy goods vehicles. The open consultation document proposes the year 2035 for ending the sale of new non-zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles under 26 tonnes and 2040 for vehicles above that weight.

Also note that France aims to end the sale of new heavy vehicles used for the transport of people or goods “mainly using fossil fuels, by 2040,” in accordance with the government’s Climate and Resilience law adopted in late August 2021. As the law also suggests the use of biofuels for heavy vehicles after 2040, and this would dilute the move toward electric trucks, we do not highlight France in the map.

There are differences among the jurisdictions highlighted in the map because the targets are framed differently. Some governments refer to “zero-emission” trucks without specifying the vehicle technology, as is the case in Norway’s target for new truck sales, the targets of the U.S. MoU, and California’s 2045 fleet target. The new sales targets created by Cape Verde and Pakistan aim at “electric” trucks without specifying the precise technologies, either. The Chinese province of Hainan includes battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles in its sales target of new “electric” sanitation vehicles. California’s ACT regulation covers binding sales targets for new “zero-emission and near zero-emission” trucks and defines a zero-emission vehicle as “an on-road vehicle with a drivetrain that produces zero exhaust emissions of any criteria pollutant (or precursor pollutant) or greenhouse gas under any possible operational modes or conditions” and a near zero-emission vehicle as “an on-road hybrid electric vehicle that utilizes an internal combustion or heat engine as well as an externally rechargeable energy storage system that affords the vehicle an all-electric range.” Despite the variations, the direction is clearly set toward zero-emission trucks.

These commitments are also important signals and can serve as good examples for other governments that remain hesitant to push electrification in the market. Still, binding sales requirements are likely to be crucial in the near term to kick-start the investments in supply chains and infrastructure deployment needed to help zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles reach scale. We are running out of time, as the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminded us. When it comes to clean trucks, the time has come for governments to walk the walk.

Table 1. Government targets for phasing out internal combustion engine trucks as of August 2021.
Government Target vehicle type Target for new sales Target for on-road vehicle stock Target year Source
Austria Heavy-duty vehicles (<18 tonnes 100% –– 2030 Mobility Master Plan (2021)
Heavy-duty vehicles (>18 tonnes) 100% –– 2035
Cape Verde Medium and heavy trucks 100% –– 2035 Electric Mobility Policy Charter (2019)
–– 100%
Pakistan Heavy-duty trucks 90% –– 2040 National Electric Vehicles Policy (2019)
California (United States) Rigid trucks 75% –– 2035 Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation (2020)
Tractor trucks 40% –– 2035
Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles –– 100% 2045 Executive Order (2020)
Hainan (China) Sanitation vehicles 50% –– 2020 Hainan’s Clean Energy Vehicle Development Plan (2019)
Norway Heavy-duty trucks 50% –– 2030 National Transport Plan (2017, 2021)
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles 100% –– 2050 Memorandum of Understanding (2020)