The climate toll only comes with enough eco-trucks

Berlin Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing only wants to demand an additional climate toll from the transport industry for every kilometer driven on motorways and federal highways if there are enough vehicles with alternative drives on the market.

“We want to start the toll reform at the end of 2023,” confirmed the FDP politician on Thursday at a ministry conference on climate-friendly commercial vehicles in Berlin, although the decision of the traffic light coalition. However, if the toll were differentiated more strongly according to carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), other vehicles would also have to be available. “It has to be in sync. Otherwise it is not fair treatment.”

With his position, the transport minister opposes the ambitious goals that climate minister Robert Habeck (Greens) noted in his draft for an immediate climate protection program. He then aims to add an equally high climate component to the existing truck toll, which a new directive from the European Commission allows. Accordingly, the truck toll could be twice as high from 2024.

An expert committee of the federal government had already determined in the last legislative period: Above all, the amount of the toll determines whether a battery-powered vehicle is cheaper overall than a current diesel truck over the period of use. The CO2 price has “an important signaling effect and, in conjunction with a higher toll deduction on the infrastructure component, brings the greatest advantage for alternative drives,” explained the government commission.

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The toll is therefore a great incentive to switch to the alternative drive. The state currently earns around seven billion euros a year from the truck toll. The Ministry of Transport is talking about introducing the additional climate toll in stages – depending on the trucks available.

The climate toll is to gradually promote the switch from 2024 onwards

The transport sector is facing enormous challenges in order to achieve its climate goals: the sector still has to save up to 175 million tons of CO2 by 2030, which is more than it causes in one year. In 2030, it should only emit 85 million tons per year. Long-distance road freight transport causes the majority of emissions.



billion euro

is the state’s annual revenue from truck tolls.

Heavy trucks from 26 tons alone generate half of the emissions, although they only cover a quarter of the total mileage. By 2030, a third of the routes are to be climate-neutral. Two numbers illustrate how difficult the task is: According to the transport industry, 112 vehicles are currently toll-exempt from the toll operator Toll Collect as zero-emission vehicles. However, more than 700,000 trucks from Germany alone drive on the autobahns every day.

The Ministry of Transport is planning to initially continue to promote the purchase of new trucks. Since 2021, the federal government has been covering up to 80 percent of the additional purchase costs compared to diesel vehicles. But the remaining 20 percent is also quite a challenge: while a diesel-powered truck costs around 100,000 euros, a battery-powered truck is three times as much.

Hydrogen-powered trucks are not yet available, but are forecast to cost around half a million euros.

While the industry complains that it takes too long for applications to be approved, the ministry refers to requested funding of 1.5 billion euros. However, only 1.3 billion euros are available until 2025. There are also 6.3 billion euros to set up charging stations for cars and trucks. “The program is to be continued,” announced Minister Wissing.

Electrically powered truck

The vehicles are still significantly more expensive than the diesel models.

(Photo: Reuters)

The way to the climate target is long, the manufacturers want to remain open to technology. “We need all alternatives,” emphasized Volvo Trucks boss Peter Ström. Batteries are right for short and medium distances, hydrogen for long-distance. Volvo also has an eye on the internal combustion engine, which works with synthetic fuels, for example. By 2030, 70 percent of new vehicles should be climate-neutral.

Traton board member Bernd Osterloh announced that by 2030 the company wants to run around 90 percent of its city buses and every second truck battery-powered. Traton keeps an eye on hydrogen operation. Beat Hirschi, head of Hyundai Hydrogen Mobility, made it clear: “We rely 100 percent on hydrogen.”

Mercedes-Benz Trucks relies on battery and hydrogen-powered trucks and intends to operate a good 60 percent of its fleet emission-free by 2030. But there are still “major challenges in the charging infrastructure,” warns sales manager Joachim Schlereth. The Ulm manufacturer Iveco Magirus also called for the hydrogen charging infrastructure to be set up. “We have to do both at the same time,” said sales manager Christian Sulser.

Wissing rejects state charging networks

In fact, a nationwide charging infrastructure is one of the major challenges. Minister Wissing wants to create a “basic network” for hydrogen vehicles. There are currently around 130 charging points in Europe, most of them in Germany. “We have to be prepared when vehicles come onto the market in the second half of the decade,” said Wissing.

This applies all the more to battery-electric trucks. The charging network must be expanded “prematurely”, the minister warned and predicted a “rapid ramp-up” of battery-powered trucks after 2025. The high-performance charging network must be in place by then. It should be privately operated and accordingly “be economically lucrative”. However, it currently takes up to ten years before a charging station is connected to a high-voltage grid.

The first high-performance charging stations will be tested by 2024 along the A2 from Berlin in the direction of the Ruhr area. These are said to be necessary in order to be able to charge the heavy trucks with their batteries weighing around four tons on board in less than an hour.

Also unresolved is the question of where all the green electricity comes from for climate-neutral driving. Climate Minister Habeck must answer these questions.

“The climate protection goals in road freight transport can only be achieved at the end of the decade and only if the framework conditions are right,” states Dirk Engelhardt, spokesman for the board of the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Waste Management. “This includes the availability of competitive e-trucks and H2 trucks on the market, a nationwide charging and refueling infrastructure based on renewable energies as well as planning and investment security for subsidy programs and tolls.” The toll should only come “in stages”.

More: Coalition agrees on higher truck toll – CO2 surcharge only from 2024.

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