Exhaust emissions – Why the UK Government want to ban diesel cars

Let’s take a look at what problems diesel cars face going forward. If you are an owner of a new diesel car, you will be facing a higher first year road tax. Some believe that this is the beginning of the end to diesel car production. This is just one of many challenges in recent years that diesel cars will face from the UK authorities.

Many cities across Europe are also considering a ban on older car models that use this fuel type. The UK Government has proposed new legislation that means councils can apply a diesel surcharge for ageing vehicles. There will also be specific charging zones. These changes come on the back of falling sales of new diesel vehicles within the UK. New car registrations for diesel vehicles in February 2018 account for 35% of the motor trader market, in February 2012, this figure was more than 50%. Diesel fuel is still chosen by more than 12 million British citizens, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is pushing to defend the fuel type.

Diesel engines have had a challenging few years to say the least. Many associate the decline to the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, which affected millions of vehicles and made headlines around the world. The UK Government has played a prominent role in previously promoting the fuel type as well as becoming an impeding obstacle in recent years.

Why did the UK Government choose to promote diesel?

This question goes back more than two decades. The UK was one of 192 countries that elected to sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. This was an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a 12.5% average compared to 1990 levels, this goal was to be achieved by 2012. To fulfil the Kyoto agreement requirements, a reduction in Carbon dioxide (CO2) was required. New vehicle tax rates were introduced that favoured diesel in 2001, which have lower CO2 emissions in comparison to petrol. This meant that sales of massive fleets of efficient diesel vehicles grew exponentially as more car manufacturers came on board. More than one third of vehicles in the UK today run on diesel, this is four times more than there were in early 2000.

During this time, there was scepticism about the fuel type. Scientists were aware that diesel may be ‘dirty’ in this period. This is because of higher levels of nitrogen oxide emissions. Medical advisers were well aware of the health risks that come with nitrogen oxide (NOx), but car manufacturers lead them to believe that a converter would alleviate any potential problems. Unfortunately, manufacturers only had to pass lenient lab tests. This meant that car companies could meet different nitrogen oxide laboratory test targets within the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), the situation was different when the vehicles were on the roads.

Diesel car pollution

Over the last decade, studies have shown that diesel cars cause more pollution that far exceed the lab test results in comparison to driving conditions in a real world scenario. A report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) explains that some diesel cars were actually exceeding the legal pollution limit by 25 times on the road. The Royal College of Physicians in the UK have linked poor air quality to an estimated 40,000+ premature deaths per year, as well as costing the economy an estimated £20 billion per year. However, the most conclusive report emerged in 2015, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) discovered that Volkswagen intentionally cheated the emission tests, finding that diesel models were polluting the environment up to 40 times above the legal limit. VW Group faced billions of dollars in US lawsuits, which lead to them recalling an estimated 11 million vehicles worldwide, more than 1.2 million of these were from the UK. This scandal kickstarted a number of policy changes. The UK Government and many other countries across Europe have reversed course on promoting diesel fuel. Some European cities are planning measures to ban diesel cars. It is important to remember that not every diesel vehicle is as ‘dirty’. The latest Euro 6 diesels are considered to have the cleanest diesel engines according to the SMMT.

It is unlikely that there will be a diesel ban in the UK. It is expected that many cities will apply charging zones that will place limits on older petrol and diesel engines from entering during these time periods. This legislation has already begun in London. The recent toxicity (T-Charge) and the congestion charge amount to £21.50 for anyone visiting in an older vehicle. Some councils within the capital city have introduced diesel surcharges on parking permits and higher hourly parking rates for diesel motorists. Changes to diesel tax arrived in April 2018. This will affect both company car and private car owners. The UK Government hopes to stop the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. New lab tests were introduced in September 2017 to be much stricter. In these tests, new cars must be tested in real world conditions (on the road) for their nitrogen oxide emissions. The reputation of diesel cars has taken a tumble but many industry leaders have not given up hope just yet.

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