Is the death of the diesel car imminent?

 By Mike Scott

The Volkswagen emissions scandal has hit sales of diesel cars around the world, but the industry is under pressure from another—and potentially even more serious—threat as well…

Diesels are more fuel-efficient than petrol engines, meaning that they emit fewer CO2 emissions per mile travelled, but they emit far more of other pollutants that contribute to local air pollution and harm human health. European Union air quality standards in place since 2008 have been routinely ignored by member states, leading the European Commission to announce in February that that standards are being exceeded in 130 cities across 23 of the EU’s 28 members. With air pollution becoming a high-profile issue in cities across the world from Beijing to Los Angeles, pressure is growing on politicians to take action.

A growing number of cities, concerned about local air pollution levels caused by emissions of NOx, SOx and particulates, have announced plans to restrict diesels. Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have pledged to phase out diesels altogether by 2025, and the UK is considering a diesel scrappage scheme to get diesel engines off the roads. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London is introducing a T-charge (for toxicity) from 2019, which will cost the most polluting vehicles £10 to enter central London, on top of the £10 congestion charge, while in 35 other towns and cities across the UK, diesels face a £20 toxins tax and driving restrictions. Khan and his Paris counterpart Anne Hidalgo, are leading a switch in focus to “real-world” emissions rather than the artificially restrictive EU official standards, which are based on lab tests and do not reflect the amount of pollution diesel engines emit on the road. South Korea has announced it will follow suit.

Bad news for diesel...

With real-world emissions tests set to reveal just how polluting diesels are, carmakers in Europe, where diesel cars are most popular, are now considering the once unthinkable—that they may stop making diesel cars. Renault, one of the biggest makers of diesels, has hinted that it will phase out the engines by 2020, and VW has also suggested that diesels may no longer be viable. In a world where the performance of electric vehicles is improving rapidly and hydrogen vehicles are also coming into the equation, carmakers may find making diesels is simply no longer worth their while.

Does this mean the death of diesel? Not for a while yet. Trucks will continue to use it, because of the fuel economy benefits and because you can’t yet run a truck on batteries. However, the supremacy of diesel will increasingly be challenged by natural gas, particularly in the US. And as tighter emissions rules start to take effect in the shipping industry, the same thing will happen in that sector.

SEE MORE: Turning CO2 into fuel by Rob Davies

about the author
Mike Scott
Journalist. Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Investing, Energy, Supply Chain, Transport, Circular Economy, Stranded Assets, ESG, Smart Cities, Wealth Management, Family Offices, Asset Management, EU.