Automakers unite to defend diesel technology

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With some governments (we’re not – yet – specifically talking about you, France, why do you look so nervous?) hell bent on curbing diesel passenger cars sales, the automakers are starting to get a bit worried. 

And they are perfectly entitled to bite their nails. These past few years, all European car manufacturers have poured tons of money into developing better, cleaner diesel engines as a way of reducing the carbon footprint of their cars. Almost all manufacturers have upgraded their range of diesel engines to meet the Euro 6 requirements even earlier than required, so they did their part. Now, after investing fabulous sums of money, they are being asked to cut down on diesel production since compression ignition engines are more polluting.

While we’re not contesting that, you have to sympathize a little with the automakers here – it’s been no secret for quite a while now that diesel engines were going to be the solution to cut down on CO2 emissions, so if the governments had a problem with it, they should have made it clear sooner.

The numbers say that diesel-powered vehicles accounted for just over half of total passenger cars sold in Europe last year, mainly due to their lower fuel consumption and, in some countries, lower taxes. While shutting down city centers for diesel cars is still a very distant – and highly unlikely – proposition, countries like France are starting to level taxes between diesel and petrol cars in an attempt to persuade buyers to opt for the cleaner alternative.

It’s not unimaginable that, just like electric or hybrid vehicles now, petrol engined cars might come with some sort of incentive in the near future, be it tax reduction or even an on-purchase bonus. At the moment, France is offering 10.000 euros for those who trade in an older diesel car for a new electrical one, for example.

In turn, automakers argue that the latest Euro 6 diesel engines have all but cancelled any problems regarding pollution, emitting just 0.08 grams of NOx per kilometer. This is a drop of 84% compared to the levels recorded in 2001.

I’m guessing the automakers feel like they’re caught between the hammer and the anvil. On the one side there’s the CO2 emissions limits they have to meet, and on the other the newly arisen diesel restrictions. Since the solution to the first problem is actually building better diesel engines (which they say they have done), the second part throws them inside this vicious circle that they can’t escape without the help of the EU governments.

Sure, building more electric cars would be a viable solution, but there’s the problem of the infrastructure and government support here is still weak. Plus, the public hasn’t yet warmed up to the idea.

Analysts say that in the near future the diesel margin will drop below the 50 percent quota. The change will mostly come from the smaller segments (mini, small and even compact) where the purchase price and subsequent taxes will discourage buyers from going diesel.

Ultimately, the automakers are upset about two things: the uncertainty of the future caused by the inability of regulating bodies to offer a clear mid to long term plan and, second, the discrimination between technologies – they say it’s not the regulator’s business to blame one fuel type or the other and all they’re supposed to do is set standards and let the other find a way to comply in every way they see fit. I don’t know about you, but that really makes sense to us.