European trucks will be transformed to make driver cabs more aerodynamic, cutting emissions and improving safety, under new rules backed by EU politicians on Tuesday that could divide the industry due to the cost.
Campaigners hailed the vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg as the beginning of the end of trucks' brick-shaped cabs blamed for cyclist and pedestrian deaths because of poor driver visibility.
Cabs of the future should be longer, with sloping noses similar to the shape of high-speed train.
Data from the European Transport Safety Council found nearly 4,300 people died in collisions involving lorries in the European Union in 2011, the latest available statistics.
Jeannot Mersch, president of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims, said EU governments, which must agree to the rules before they become law, had "a moral obligation to embrace this hugely beneficial decision".
"Weakening, delaying or blocking the decision would be unforgivable," he said.
EU member states are not expected to finalise their position until around the end of the year.
Apart from the safety aspect, the non-aerodynamic shape of lorries adds to transport emissions, which the United Nations in its latest report on climate change on Sunday said were set to become the world's biggest source of planet-warming CO2.
So far the EU has introduced legislation to cut carbon emissions from cars and vans, but has not set goals for trucks, although the European Parliament is calling for that. The emissions goals are achieved through better design to improve fuel efficiency.
Tuesday's vote follows the European Commission's announcement last April that it was relaxing limits on cab size to allow space for a more streamlined nose.
At the time, the Commission, the EU executive, said manufacturers, such as Daimler and Volvo, could improve designs immediately if they wanted to, while the European Parliament is calling for the changes to be mandatory for all new lorries by 2022.
A problem for Volvo, for instance, is that it began rolling out new truck designs in 2012, so it could be at a disadvantage if competitors begin introducing models according to the new standards.
Volvo was not immediately available for comment, but the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association said the parliamentary position "does not accommodate the extremely long lead-time for the research and development required of the 15 year product lifecycle of a cab".
The more aerodynamic cabs would increase the cost of a new lorry by between 400 euros and 1,500 euros, according to industry estimates, but German research institute FKA said the difference could be paid for by fuel savings within a year.
(Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm; Editing by John O'Donnell and Mark Potter)