Car makers in the UK are moving to stem the demonisation of diesel cars as dirty, but experts say they’re ‘greenwashing’ the figures.

As the popularity of diesel cars continues in Australia, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) in the United Kingdom has launched a nationwide consumer campaign to counteract the increasing demonisation of diesel, by raising awareness of the latest low-emission car technology.

A recent YouGov poll found that 87% of UK adults said they were unaware of the latest Euro-6 vehicle emission technology, while 72% of motorists opposed penalties for UK’s cleanest diesel vehicles.

More worrying is that 54% incorrectly blamed cars and commercial vehicles as the biggest cause of air pollution in the UK while just 19% of those surveyed correctly identified power stations as the biggest contributors of nitrogen oxides (NOx). In fact, it would take 42 million Euro-6 diesel cars (almost four times the number on the roads) to generate the same amount of NOx as one UK coal-fired power station.

However, experts have criticised the SMMT saying the figures produced are based on lab tests and that car makers have stymied the introduction of real-world tests with introduction of tests pushed back from 2017 to, allegedly, 2020. The International Council on Clean Transportation found: “On average, real-world NOx emissions from the tested vehicles were about seven times higher than the limits set by the Euro-6 standard. If applied to the entire new vehicle fleet, this would correspond to an on-road level of about 560 mg/km of NOx (compared to the regulatory limit under Euro 6 of 80 mg/km)”.

Speaking with The Guardian, Greg Archer, from campaign group Transport & Environment says the car industry is basing its figures on lab tests and are ‘greenwashing’ the facts.

“They’ve based it on limits and tests which are carried out in laboratories and don’t represent the amount of pollution that these vehicles actually produce on the road. And they know that. 

“Carmakers are trying to greenwash dirty diesel to hide the truth that compared to a petrol car a typical new diesel car on the road emits 10 times more nitrogen oxides. While carmakers claim modern diesels are clean they are pushing to delay and weaken the introduction of new pollution tests. This is because most new diesels can’t reach the limits agreed back in 2007 without fitting new technology,” says Archer.

From next week, car makers including BMW UK, Ford of Britain, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen and their dealers will distribute a Diesel Facts myth-busting leaflet to put the record straight about diesel cars, on the back of new consumer research that reveals widespread confusion about diesel technology that, if uncorrected, could limit adoption of the latest low emission vehicles and undermine the UK’s efforts to meet strict air quality and climate change obligations.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “Today’s diesel engines are the cleanest ever, and the culmination of billions of pounds of investment by manufacturers to improve air quality. Bans and parking taxes on diesel vehicles therefore make no sense from an environmental point of view. We need to avoid penalising one vehicle technology over another and instead encourage the uptake of the latest low emission vehicles by consumers. The allegations against diesel cars made in recent months threaten to misguide policymaking and undermine public confidence in diesel. It’s time to put the record straight.”

Graeme Grieve, CEO BMW Group UK, said, “Diesel cars produce, on average, 20% less CO2 than equivalent petrol cars and so have a vital role to play in helping to arrest climate change. It is only if British drivers continue to choose diesel cars that the UK can meet its tough CO2 targets. Great strides have been taken to transform diesel engine emissions technology and continued, major investment from the industry is making them even cleaner.”

Mark Ovenden, Ford of Britain Chairman and Managing Director, said, “We support customer choice and the market should determine the best technologies for meeting CO2 and air quality goals. Ford is committed to offering clean and efficient petrol and diesel engines, as well as the choice of electrified options. In terms of diesel, it is important to underline that today’s and tomorrow’s advanced diesel powertrains are vastly cleaner than in the past and are approaching parity with petrol engines when it comes to emissions that affect air quality, while at the same time delivering important CO2 benefits.”

The ostracising of diesel vehicles is escalating with some local authorities in London set to charge diesel-owning residents more to park outside their homes, and late last year London mayor, Boris Johnson was offering cash incentives to diesel car owners to scrap their car and buy a ‘cleaner’ petrol car. Some local councils are imposing surcharges based on a vehicle’s Euro Standard rating; others are imposing penalties regardless of their performance.

Average CO2 emissions for new cars in the UK in 2013 were 128.3g/km, down 29% since 2000 – beating the 2015 target of 130g/km by two years. Technological advances to cut other pollutants have resulted in new design filters that capture more than 99% of particulate matter (PM10) emissions.


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