RAC Cars News


An end to the rise of the diesel car?

By raccars Published

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Fifteen years ago diesel cars made up less than 10% of the nation’s cars. They were known to get more miles to the gallon than petrol cars, so they were popular for company fleet cars that spent their lives barreling up and down the country’s motorways. They were less popular for city cars, however, as they were also known to be noisy and even a little smoky. Diesel engines have certainly improved since then but that does not explain a spectacular rise in their popularity, which has seen them overtake petrol cars and make up more than half of the cars now on our roads.

Instead, the reason for the diesel’s popularity is purely an economic one. The Government’s change to the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) system is designed to reward drivers of less polluting cars. This is measured purely on CO2 emissions, an area where diesels can do well. Drivers of these cars, therefore, pay less, or no, VED, making them an attractive proposition. Because diesels also achieve better fuel consumption figures than their petrol counterparts, motorists are also attracted by the prospect of lower fuel bills. Sadly, though, CO2 is not the only emission from a car’s exhaust that affects the environment and the current tax focus on this single gas may have led to some unintended consequences for air quality.

Although diesel cars are frugal and emit low levels of CO2, they are responsible for much greater levels of other pollutants. These chemicals include nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrous oxides (NOX) and particulate matter or soot, (PM10). Indeed, the problem is so severe in London that mayor, Boris Johnson, is pressing for increased tax on diesel cars, to encourage the capital’s motorists to switch to petrol vehicles or electric and hybrid cars.

The evidence is compelling. Studies have shown that in London, diesel cars are responsible for 39% of NO2, 28% of NOX and a whopping 54% of PM10 that is present in the air. The health implications are considerable, with a study from Public Health England indicating that Londoners are four times more likely to die from air pollution than people living in clean air areas. The EU is also currently taking Britain to court over failures to meet air pollution limits in Teeside, Southampton and Hull, as well as in London.

As the Government is forced to take a broader view of car emissions in order to meet air quality targets, it could be that the rise of the diesel car is drawing to a close.

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