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Diesel or not, that is the question
Peter Schmidt | Editor

Published: Wed, 21st October 2015 14:12:19 GMT

Diesel fuel pump Bristol Esso fuel station
PHOTO | AID Limited

Open quote signThe popular press and the specialist automotive media no less have had a field day of late, thanks to the juicy column inches generated by Volkswagen’s diesel exhaust emissions scandal. 

Deeply humbled Volkswagen ended up with a greatly damaged reputation, a sky-high likely legal bill and almost certainly, eye-watering financial penalties on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Potentially longer lasting however, is the likely damage done to the global reputation of car-based diesel engine technology. In the aftermath of VW’s diesel emission deceit affair, today diesel–powered cars will win few, if any prizes from the popular media. 

Whether the same goes for half of Europe’s car buyers who bought diesels chiefly because of their genuine wallet-friendly fuel-sipping qualities, is an altogether different question.

Despite its blackened image, which now echoes the unenviable poor image of coal, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that apart from the cheating Volkswagen Group, all other diesel car makers remain innocent until proven guilty. 

In short, we should assume their diesels fully comply with all of today’s legal exhaust emission laws. 

Environmentalists, whose heavy flak-fire now appears to be aimed principally at diesels, could conceivably contribute to the hastened death of diesel cars in Europe. 

Paradoxically, in so doing the group would be shooting themselves in the foot. 

Today vehicle CO2 emissions remain very much under the microscope. 

That’s echoed by stringent laws on both sides of the Atlantic to lessen vehicle CO2 emissions a great deal. 

And yet, modern diesels, compared to a like for like petrol-fuelled car, can travel up to a third further on the same tank of fuel. 

Yes, that’s partly due to the higher energy density of diesel fuel. 

In consequence, today, as has been the case before the VW diesel scandal, on the still topical global warming issue – chiefly CO2 emissions – modern diesels will win any day. 

Yes, thanks to cutting-edge technology, and without VW’s smoke and mirrors, today’s diesels also undercut ruling NOx emission levels.

Given the unlikely event that Europe’s new car buyers will switch en-mass to thirstier petrol powered cars during the next 18 to 24 months, effectively killing Europe’s diesel car market as we know it, average CO2 emission from cars in Europe would rise sharply. 

At the same time, the world - China, Europe and the US - would conceivably be swamped in a growing ocean of surplus diesel fuel.

Add to that another hotly debated issue brought to prominence, as a by-product of VW’s diesel deceit scandal.

Environmental groups, shocked by Volkswagen’s diesel scandal, are understandably calling for a real-world test to measure exhaust emissions like NOx in average driving. 


In tandem, using the same logic, vehicle CO2 emissions should also be measured the same way – right. 

Given such a scenario, to which should be added the unlikely possibility that forthwith diesels could be condemned to a quick and premature death, Brussels’ legislators might as well toss current plans calling for maximum fleet average CO2 emissions of 95g/km by 2021 to the waste bin. 


With the new test and a switch to thirstier petrol cars these levels will be exceeded by miles.

Barring a radical switch to ultra-heavily subsidised electric cars, fuelled near enough 100 per cent by green renewable electricity, as is already the case in stand-alone Norway today, without fuel-sipping diesels carmakers probably stand next to no chance of meeting these 95g/km levels by 2030, let alone 2021 as currently planned
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