We all know that pollution, like tobacco, kills! We also know that diesel fuel is extremely dirty. Unfortunately, until a few years ago, the automobile industry had deceived us into believing that diesel was as clean or cleaner than gasoline.
Volkswagen, the German automaker caught installing cheating devices to pass emissions tests, went as far as marketing its cars in the US as “Clean Diesel”.
Despite all the warnings, and the alarming levels of pollution choking our cities, Europeans continue to buy diesel cars by the millions. While the percentage of diesel cars purchased has dropped in the past five years, diesel still outsold gasoline cars across Europe.
The reason is simple. Diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline in most European countries, and diesel cars get higher mileage. When a European is in the market for a new car, diesel is usually the first choice: while the equivalent gasoline model (based on performance and options) is slightly cheaper, the fuel savings over time — especially for people driving long distances — outweigh the price difference.
The price we are paying, however, is much higher. Now we know that diesel cars pollute much more than gasoline ones, even if they comply with EU emissions limits. We also know that several other manufacturers have been cheating on pollution tests as well, including installing cheating devices and tampering with the engine software.
Volkswagen is not the only culprit here. Most diesel cars from manufacturers, such as Ford, Renault, Nissan, Citroën, Mercedes Benz, and Fiat fail all the emissions tests, lab tests as well as real on the road conditions. However, manufacturers have had an out because EU “conformity factors” allow them an extended period to adjust to new lower limits.
These current rules that require cars to be tested under “normal driving conditions”, using portable emissions monitoring systems (PEMS) on the road and when the engine is cold, are not being implemented because the investment necessary to upgrade the testing equipment is lacking.
According to European Commission data, diesel cars currently being produced to comply with Euro 6 requirements, actually exceed the NO2 limit by 4–5 times (400%) on average in real driving conditions. Also, NO2 limits are different in Europe. In the US it is 50mg per mile, while in the EU it is of 80mg per km (156% more).
Ironically, heavy trucks are better equipped than cars to minimize emissions. A 5-ton truck emits less nitrogen oxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM) than a 1.8 litre diesel car. In addition, trucks need special permission to enter city centers, which keeps their pollution away from dense residential areas.
All this points to why buying a new diesel car today is irresponsible. To save a few euros, drivers are increasing pollution in European cities, which damages the health of millions and contributes heavily to CO2 emissions and climate change.
Despite being caught and acknowledging the damaging effects of diesel pollution in 2015, the auto industry managed to convince the European Commission to extend conformity factors for new cars two-times the NOx limit until 2019, and 1.5 times from January 2021. The reason, they argue, is that the European car industry has invested heavily in diesel technology and it will take much longer to change to less polluting models. Nevertheless, the Volkswagen group has already paid billions in fines and compensation to vehicle owners and dealers. Additionally, US officials said earlier this month that the German giant will plead guilty to three criminal charges and pay a total of $4.3bn in fines to settle the emissions cheating scandal with authorities.
Even taking the gas savings into consideration, buying a diesel car today could be a bad investment. Many European cities are already looking at those vehicles as the main culprits of their pollution problems. Cities such as Paris and Madrid are considering total bans in four and eight years, respectively, with more cities to follow. Other cities, such as Barcelona, are working on implementing higher parking rates for more polluting cars and raising road tax for those vehicles. Environmental organizations are putting pressure on national governments to increase taxes on diesel fuel as a way to reduce the appeal of diesel-run vehicles. Over time these measures will make diesel cars less appealing and effectively reduce their resale value.
“When we talk about the measures planned in Madrid, Paris or Mexico City to ban diesel vehicles from 2025 we all know that they should have been taken off the roads a long time ago,” said Prof. Enrique Dans in his article: “The inevitable shift toward new urban transport models”.
Greg Archer of Transport & Environment said in 2015: “Carmakers claims [that] new diesel cars are clean are preposterous. Governments must ignore the bleating of carmakers for lenient limits and fix the problem for good.”
If you are thinking about a new car, give yourself, your family, and fellow citizens a gift: Buy electric. If you are not ready to go fully electric consider a hybrid, or at least a low emissions gasoline car. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t buy diesel! Your city, your family, your neighbors, and eventually your own conscience, will thank you.