New global measures are clearly identifying diesel engines as the main culprit regarding urban air pollution. What does this mean for the future of diesel? What penalties await owners of diesel vehicles? What happened to the promises made to buyers of diesel cars?
Less than two decades ago, vehicle owners were encouraged to purchase diesel cars and incentives such as lower road tax lead many to the showrooms to help do their bit for the environment and save a few pennies into the bargain. Yet today things are very different and diesel owners face a myriad of rising costs from purchase to parking. Justifiably many also feel let down and frustrated by the direct shift in attitude but how did it all come about?
What has changed?
Back in the early 2000s the main focus of environmental issues was to reduce carbon emissions. No bad thing of course, whatever your view on the role played by man in climate change, cleaner air is always something to strive for. This led to the diesel engine becoming the green champion of the highways. With its high MPG and low CO2 output they flew the flag for a greener, cleaner world.
However since those days the pollution levels of major cities has increased to such a point that the whole diesel landscape has shifted dramatically. This time it isn’t carbon at the core of the argument but its sinister cousin nitrogen. Diesel emits several forms of nitric gases, labelled under the general term NOx. They include Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) which are the gases found to be the most active in urban pollution. So its away with the shining armour and a lady’s colours flowing proudly from its lance and into the village green stocks to be pelted with rotten tomatoes and have abuse screamed in its ears. Such is the fickle nature of the diesel’s fate.
Governments across the globe are starting to implement measures to combat the rise of pollution by banning diesels from entering their walls. Berlin began by banning diesels when air quality was dangerously low back in 2008. Paris has just introduced a similar scheme and alongside Mexico City, Athens and Madrid have further schemes to ban diesels altogether from the mid-2020s. In April 2017 Westminster is introducing a pilot scheme to charge diesels 50% more than petrol cars to park in the district. Add in talk of scrappage schemes, higher road tax and these proposed increases to parking charges and we have a multi-pronged attack on the engine and its owners.
It’s hard to predict what future the diesel engine has. You only have to look at the change in attitudes in just 15 years to see that it could happen again in the opposite direction. However at the moment it has to be a very uncertain future. Buyers will be looking to save money and will clearly not be attracted to a new vehicle if it comes with higher road tax, parking charges and limitations regarding access to urban areas.
The motor industry has faced many mixed messages in its life and that has only been exacerbated by recent news that vehicle duty is also set to rise markedly for electric/hybrid vehicles as well. If it isn’t the end for diesel it could well be the beginning of the end, for non-business or industry users at any rate. During the next decade more will become clear but for now the future for diesel is as shrouded in mystery as the clouds of fumes that emanate from its exhaust.