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Beginning of the end for diesel cars?


Last year more than half of new cars sold in the U.K. were diesel. The fact that they have lower emissions of carbon dioxide than their petrol counter- parts led a previous UK government to foolishly encourage millions of their citizens to opt for diesel cars – as part of their contribution to minimising climate change. However this decision was criticised in recent investigation. [1]

A major problem with diesel cars is that they produce 22 times the amount of toxic particulate matter as do petrol cars – a cause of cancer linked with the premature deaths of tens of thousands of people each year. Moreover they emit up to four times more oxides of nitrogen – including nitrogen dioxide, which damages lungs and blood vessels and can cause heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

According to Professor Roy Harrison, professor of environmental health at the University of Birmingham, government ministers were warned of the risks more than 20 years ago: “I chaired an advisory committee in 1993 who was advising government on urban air quality issues and we recognized that there might be future problems associated with the increasing uptake of diesel passenger cars.” [1]

And air quality is so poor that it is stunting the lungs of young children in parts of London, according to preliminary findings from research being by experts at Queen Mary University Hospital and Kings College, London. Professor Chris Griffiths, QMUL, said: “When we look at the lung development of children who have been exposed to the highest levels of pollution compared with the lowest levels of pollution they are developing smaller stunted lungs, and that’s a big concern.” [1]

More recently, an emissions scandal involving the Volkswagen motor company was widely publicised and the revelations sent shock waves through the world motor industry. In brief, the company admitted fraudulently lowering the emission counts for the oxides of nitrogen in many of its diesel engines after it realised that there is no way for those diesel engines to meet the tight U.S. standards for emissions.

A recent article by Helen Gallant, which appeared in the web-based publication Global Research [2], drew attention to some of the outcomes of this scandal. Apart from needing to service around 11 million VW cars and vans in order to remove faulty software, there are some knock-on ramifications affecting shares in a range of other car manufacturers, a tightening of auto guidelines, and a loss of consumer confidence and profits.

According to Gallant, the auto research analyst at Bernstein Research, Max Warburton believes that the scandal could mark the beginning of the end for the global diesel car market, In an interview on the subject he stated that: “ ” The move against VW is going to act as a catalyst to speed up the fall in diesel market share in Europe and halt it in the US.”

Quoting further from Gallant:

” Diesel cars already have a bad reputation amongst those consumers with an environmental interest, because of the high levels of emissions that they produce, and diesel cars are already around 10-15% more expensive to insure than petrol cars (with adequate car insurance coverage being a legal requirement in most markets) making them generally more expensive for consumers to run. This is devastating news for Europe, which has seen billions of euros extensively invested in diesel technology over the last decade, in a bid to find a cleaner and more environmentally friendly diesel engine. The fraudulent activity of the region’s largest manufacturer means that this money has been, effectively, wasted.

No doubt because one of their biggest exports sits at the heart of the scandal, the German government has raised its concerns over the lack of regulation within the car industry, and costly new regulations are sure to be implemented in the short term. ”

Gallant also thinks that this scandal may prove to be an opportunity for the U.S. auto industry to provide a viable challenge to the diesel market and diesel car technology. In particular, U.S. electric and hybrid car brands may be able to take advantage of the widely perceived need for environmentally friendly motor vehicles.




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