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Penny Searles' blog: We need to talk about diesel

Date: 27 April 2017

It is fair to say, diesel manufacturers (and drivers) have had a rough few months in the press. So much so that it has been dubbed a 'war on diesel' in some quarters. That is probably a tad over the top, but nonetheless, these are worrying times for the industry.

 London mayor Sadiq Khan recently announced plans to move forward the introduction of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone to 2019. This is similar to charges already in place in cities such as Paris, Madrid and Stuttgart.

As well as London, councils in various other British cities are debating similar tariffs. Clearly, we need to accept that this issue isn't going away and if you are likely to be driving in busy city centres frequently, this is definitely something you should factor in when you decide whether you need to replace your car or indeed what car you buy next.

 Of course, the issue is vastly more complex than that. Firstly, from a consumer perspective, it is confusing that the Government reports have shifted to saying diesel is the 'dirtier' fuel. Contradictory to years of being told diesel was a cleaner alternative to petrol and better for the environment.

So, quite rightly, people feel angry and upset. Why should the consumer pay more for driving diesel cars when the government spent years encouraging us to do just that?

 This is a fair point, but before we accuse the government of lying to us, let us look at the facts in more detail. Firstly, diesel did and still does produce on average 20% less CO2 than petrol, which is why it was championed in the first place. It is the nitrogen oxide it emits that is the problem.

Again, this is a problem that has vastly improved in recent years in newer models. The main reason this has all become so prevalent recently is of course down the VW 'dieselgate' scandal. In light of that scandal, it was clear that testing standards for the industry were not strict enough and not accurate enough in road conditions. Something that has been remedied, with much stricter and in depth testing to begin this year.

Even then, there is still some dispute has to how big an impact diesel cars are having on the air in our cities. What is almost indisputable however, is that we have a problem with our air and it is causing health problems. Diesel (and petrol) are clearly a contributing factor in that, so working towards reducing their emissions is almost certainly of benefit to us all.

 But, due to the reasons we stated above, it would be incredibly unfair if the main methods of doing so, resulted in consumers being the ones hit hardest financially. So, what can be done? A popular solution offered has been a diesel scrappage scheme, but this comes with problems. The main one being the value of the scheme. If it isn't cost-effective to use the scheme then it would be a hard-sell to encourage people to scrap their car.

 For a better solution, perhaps we should copy the French and German governments. They have both made it mandatory that several manufacturers recall and fix models found to be emitting higher than tested levels of pollution.

Theresa May has already stated that she is 'very conscious of the fact that past governments have encouraged people to buy diesel cars and we need to take that into account.' It remains to be seen exactly what that means, but we know there will be a lot of anger if it is the consumer that ends up out of pocket in order to fix all of this.



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