The Diesel Dilemma, Buy or ‘Bye’?

April 2018

Having regularly hit the headlines in the last few years, diesel has made a recent reappearance in the news cycle, as government environmental regulations aimed at reducing pollution start to trickle through in 2018. In response to the tougher terms, several car manufacturers — including Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Volvo, Jaguar and Porsche — have announced that they will be bidding farewell to diesel-fuel as early as 2019.

Once touted as the modern man’s ‘wonder’ fuel, diesel has been recast as the villain in the 21st century’s quest for cleaner power for our cars. Facing increasing levels of taxation, additional charges and potentially, exclusion zones, sales of new diesel cars saw a 25% fall in January 2018, as motorists grow concerned about future running costs. But is this move away from diesel entirely justified, or should consumers continue to buy diesel-run vehicles?

We explore diesel in a little more depth, and assess if it looks like the end of the road for diesel cars.
What’s Fuelling The Fall?
In the early 2000s, diesel was the fuel of choice. Not only was it more efficient and cost-effective, its CO2 emissions were regularly 20% lower than its petrol counterpart. Following the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, the UK government offered motorists financial incentives to switch to diesel, resulting in a surge of diesel vehicles on the road as consumers simultaneously saved both pounds and the planet.

However, after a decade of being the poster-child for cleaner fuel, it emerged that diesel exhausts pump out potentially harmful nitrogen oxides and dioxides (NOx) and particulates matter (PM). This revelation was compounded by ‘dieselgate’ in 2015, in which a global car firm admitted having cheated on its emissions tests by installing devices to manipulate lower NOx readings in laboratory tests. Previously ‘clean’ diesel cars were revealed to be in breach of the legal limits and polluting urban environments.

As a result, politicians have gone into overdrive, introducing new regulations designed to drastically reduce diesel emissions. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is championing various ‘toxin taxes’, starting with the T-Charge and initially concluding with the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in 2019. Some cities have notched it up another gear, with Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City pledging to ban diesel cars from their roads altogether by 2025. Stuttgart and Dusseldorf have already been given the go-ahead to banish older diesel vehicles, as of March 2018.

Minimising environmental impact is a global responsibility — and rightly so — but car manufactures are already making significant contributions to the worldwide reduction of pollution. Not only have diesel cars saved 3.5million tonnes of CO2 since 2002, but it was proven in 2015 that they are not the main source of urban NOx pollution*. Moreover, newest breed of diesel cars — Euro 6 — are equipped with filters and technology which covert 99% of fumes into nitrogen and water before they reach the exhaust. Plus, they are incredibly fuel-efficient; diesel cars use 20% less fuel whilst covering 60% more miles**.
The Road Ahead
Almost half of the vehicles currently on UK roads are powered by diesel, making the potential shift towards alternatively fuelled cars hugely significant. Consumers are showing tentative signs of changing allegiances, with sales of electric vehicles increasing by 23.9% in January 2018. The British public is still hesitant — electric cars only make up 2% of new cars sold, but the increase is likely to be reflective of future buying trends, so manufacturers need to be prepared to develop their range of alternative-fuel vehicles.

For those not quite ready to make the full switch, the market for hybrids is also booming, as they comply with the more restrictive emissions legislations, whilst still providing consumers with the reassurance of a fuel-powered engine for longer journeys. Drivers can choose from plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), or standalone models which regenerate their own energy.

With the UK government prioritising the improvement of air quality and reduction of pollution, consumers need to give some serious thought as to how their next vehicle will be fuelled — especially as the government intends to ban the sale of both diesel and petrol cars by 2040. However, there are still a number of car-buying cycles to go before the 2040 ban comes into effect, giving drivers (and car manufacturers) plenty of time to adjust to a potentially diesel and petrol free future landscape.

In any case, the reality of a fossil fuel free society is still far off; the UK’s infrastructure must undergo huge changes to be properly equipped for a 100% switch to electric vehicles — installing more public charging points and addressing the strain on energy supplies, for example. For the moment, diesel cars are still a perfectly viable option, offering longer range and better fuel economy for out-of-town high mileage drivers.