Voices

Diesel is dead… very nearly

Very few people in Australia have realised that by 2025 you won’t be able to drive a diesel car in Paris, Athens, Madrid or Mexico City…

AND THAT MEANS diesel is dead only it hasn’t quite realised it. Diesel makes up about 50% of car purchases in Europe, so not being able to drive them in a bunch of Europe’s major cities in 2025, which isn’t that far away is a major issue. And, it’s widely expected that other key European cities, like London (although after Brexit it doesn’t see itself as European).

The decision to ban diesel cars from the cities mentioned in the intro was made by those city’s mayors at a meeting last week, with those mayors telling the press that any car maker that failed to adapt to this decision would soon find itself out of business. Wow.

Here in Australia, diesel fuel has long been considered the fuel of choice for farm vehicles and heavy machinery. But, once Australia finally got access to good quality diesel fuel then European car makers began sending their diesel models Down Under. And we fell in love.

Sure, there’s no 50/50 split between diesel and petrol here, but we started buying them in big numbers because of the benefits of mileage and because of the suggestion they were somehow better for the environment because they emitted less CO2 than petrol engines.

That last point is now being disputed by scientists in Europe many of who claim that car makers have misled buyers on the CO2 benefits of diesel fuel. We’re all aware of the health issues around diesel particulates and nitrogen oxides and this is the key reason that diesel is being banned in some of Europe’s key cities in 2025. Not even diesel particulate filters and improved emissions, or not, in Volkswagen’s case, can save the diesel.

It’s important to note that the city’s mayors didn’t suggest that petrol powered cars were less harmful although they kind of are as there are no nitrogen oxides or fine diesel soot being emitted. Rather, the mayors pointed at electric vehicles as the best way forward and suggested they would help fund the uptake of electric vehicles. Paris has already banned diesel cars built before 1997 and has diesel car free days.

Europe is the main development centre for diesel vehicles and with many of the major automakers now switching focus to electric and autonomous drive technology there’s no telling what the decision to ban diesel in Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City might have on us in Australia. Indeed, the VW Group, Ford and BMW have announced a joint initiative to construct an electric vehicle filling network across Europe which will begin roll-out in the next couple of years. And there’s a US company, Nikola Motors that has committed to building more than 300 hydrogen filling stations across that country by 2020.

So, while it might not seem like it right now with Australians clamouring to get their hands on diesel-powered 4×4 utes and wagons we are in the last days of diesel. And don’t think I’m overplaying the decision by mayors in Paris, Madrid, Athens or Mexico City.

See, the World Health Organisation claims that around 3 million people each year die from air pollution related issues, and diesel powered cars and trucks are considered one of the main sources of air pollution in towns and citiies. Indeed, more than 400,000 people die each year in Europe because of air pollution.

Locally, Australia is way off the pace in terms of emissions laws. I mean, we’ve only just adopted Euro 5 emissions standards, whereas Europe is about to head into the much more stringent Euro 6. Regardless, by 2025 the automotive landscape will look very, very different. So, maybe we should start developing a battery-electric dual-cab 4×4 ute… anyone got a spare $100 million to fund a start-up?

  • Monty

    I am desperately hoping that someone will come up with an affordable retrofit electric pack for my car! Surely it cannot be that hard?

    • Hi Monty, there are mobs around that retro-fit electric systems into small cars, but none that seem to be looking into it for larger vehicles. A 4×4 with electric motors on all four wheels would be good thing… And, surely, to get the masses switched on to battery-electric cars, car makers should be trundling out electric SUV concepts… its seems that SUVs are all anyone’s interested in buying. – Isaac

  • Biff

    I honestly think that petrol hybrids are the immediate way forward, even with a smaller Li-ion battery (for cost & packaging purposes). The electric motor gives you that diesel-like low down torque, and really complements the characteristics of a petrol engine; the extra torque gives you the load-carrying ability; the battery/motor-generator allows you to capture energy when braking; and the battery capacity allows you full shutdown when stationary for reduced emissions, plus instant takeoff when the lights go green (via the electric motor) without having to wait for the petrol engine to restart, like so many clumsy stop-start systems.

    • petey53

      Brakes last a long time due to regenerative braking and there is less brake fade. Long term reliability of the Prius has been the best of any car.

      • McF1

        Agreed, the Prius is the most reliable car in the market. Yesterday I read that Consumer Reports reported the Prius as the number one most reliable car in the USA, and the Lexus CT200h as the second most reliable.

  • Steve Bekkers

    So everybody is anti carbon but diesels produce less CO2 than petrol engines and nitrous oxide is laughing gas! can we have no fun anymore? Most modern diesels have particulate filters can these be retro fitted to older vehicles?

  • McF1

    “The mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens have pledged to remove all diesel vehicles from their streets by 2025 to improve the quality of air for citizens.”
    This is just a grand statement at a conference without a plan. I do not see this happening by 2025. It is the government of France that encourage people to buy passenger car diesels, so are they going to buy back all the diesel passenger cars or provide compensation??? And the statement says “all diesel vehicles”, which means that all diesel trucks, including street sweepers, garage trucks, …. being banned in these cities by 2025: will not happen.
    And why only stop at banning diesels, really should be looking at banning petrol also if they are really serious. Petrol cars are not all that better than diesels in regards to ones health.

  • (petrol) “there are no nitrogen oxides or fine diesel soot being emitted” – that statement is wrong as such.
    Petrol engine produce (ca. 75%) less NOx but not zero. Direct injection petrol engines are also generating a massive amount of particles – up to 10x more than diesel – and they also need (non-mandatory) particle filters to fix that.

    • Biff

      Klaus, they’re not emitting 10x more than diesel – some GDI engines are approaching diesel levels of PM.

      • Google for
        TÜV Nord GDI 10 times
        You should get a hit for transportenvironment dot org with some background info.

        Just citing anyway and regardless of whether it is ca. 1x or up to 10x, it’s still not zero. 😉

        • Biff

          Hi Klaus, I did see that study but was a little suspicious given who sponsored it. Also, I can’t see any other studies that agree. Research from Oak Ridge National Laboratory says GDI is worse than port fuel injection for PM, approaching diesel levels, but that this varies according to engine temp, load and speed as well as the design of the engine itself. I did discover that the PM is finer than for diesels, thus able to penetrate further into our lungs – not good!

          Regardless, you are correct that any pollution is bad. Every day we swim through a chemical soup and we really need to tackle this. Even if there is no net carbon reduction by switching to coal-fired EVs (and our grid will get cleaner), removing local pollution from where we live is a great boon. It is far easier to control and monitor emissions from 7 or 8 power stations than millions of private vehicles, in various states of repair or disrepair. Add in the energy security benefits of reducing oil imports and the noise reduction in urban areas, and EVs should be a high priority for governments.

          • There is a new analysis by the biggest German automobile club (ADAC Ecotest 2016). The Opel Corsa 1.0 DI (petrol) produced twice the NOx ceiling for diesel cars. The VW Tiguan 1.4 TSI was also bad. Of course, the worst cars were still diesels (SsangYong was the very worst). I guess the message is that “it all depends”. Anyway, something has to be done as you noted.

            I reckon we are quite lucky here in Australia because we have primarily coastal cities with correspondingly high winds … unlike Paris, Stuttgart, Mexico city etc.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.