Is Diesel Done For

Diesel has gained a bad reputation over the last couple of years in the wake of the emissions scandal that hit various manufacturers and prompted recalls. Couple this with increasing publicity over air pollution, particularly in cities and urban areas dominated by vans, taxis, buses and trucks that all drink from the black nozzle. And you’re left asking; is this the end for diesel, the fuel that was once hailed as the future for many motorists?

The media is certainly vilifying diesel

With headlines online and in newspapers ranging from ‘UK car sales fall for eight months in a row with diesel down 30%’ and ‘Diesel tax causes sales to crash by a third as Brits stop buying cars’ to ‘German prosecutors look into BMW diesel cheating allegations’, anyone would be forgiven for assuming that diesel’s days will be coming to an end very soon indeed.

The government is also targeting diesel

October 2017 saw the T-Charge introduced in London meaning that drivers of cars not meeting Euro 4 emissions standards have to pay an extra £10 fee on top of the congestion charge, while certain councils have launched additional parking charges for diesel vehicles, with Islington soon adding a £2 surcharge to all fees, even for the latest and cleanest Euro 6 cars.

In Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget, it was announced that vehicle excise duty (VED) or ‘road tax’ for diesel vehicles will increase from April 2018. Cars meeting the new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) 2 test will be exempt, but manufacturers aren’t obligated to test their vehicles until 2020, meaning that very few cars will escape having to pay one band higher tax based on CO2 emissions. Company car tax on diesel models will also increase by 1%.

It’s not that simple, though

Before we all declare that diesel is done for and will be dead and buried within a handful of years, it’s good to take a reality check.

For starters, diesel technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years and the latest Euro 6 compliant cars and vans are the cleanest in history, equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF) that do a great job in converting harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) into harmless nitrogen and water. Across all makes and models, CO2 emissions from diesel engines have been reduced to an all-time low.

The RAC believes that “diesel is far from dead and in some instances remains the obvious choice for some drivers depending on a number of practical factors”. Diesel cars typically produce more torque or pulling power, making them more relaxing to drive and often better for overtaking. The high speeds adopted on motorways negate most problems around DPFs becoming clogged, and diesel engines are still generally regarded as more suited to steep hills and for 4x4 vehicles that drive over rough terrain or tow trailers or caravans.

Audi has even been busy pouring millions of pounds of investment over the last few years into developing synthetic diesel. Effectively made using air and water, the marque’s ‘e-diesel’ fuel is said to be almost carbon-neutral with extremely low CO2 emissions. Produced in Switzerland, a country known for its keenly green stance, e-diesel will only be made in limited volumes initially. But the factory will itself be powered by renewable energy, making the process sustainable – it’s a very interesting project to keep up to date with.

Running costs

One consumer study found that, on average, diesel cars are more efficient than their petrol counterparts by around 8mpg, potentially saving £200 each year. While diesel is typically priced slightly higher than petrol by fuel retailers, diesel drivers often find themselves filling up far less regularly as they enjoy higher ‘MPG’ fuel consumption or economy from their cars.

Automotive experts cap hpi published a report recently revealing that switching from diesel to petrol can result in drivers finding themselves out of pocket. Matt Freeman from the organisation comments: “With many consumers concerned about the rising cost of living, diesel was a clear choice for anyone looking to reduce the cost of motoring. With greater fuel efficiency, competitive maintenance costs and higher residual values, diesel vehicles offered real, long-term cost-saving benefits.” He adds: “It’s important for drivers to look at their real-world use of their vehicle and select the right powertrain: if you’re a high-mileage driver you should still be considering a diesel vehicle because of the better fuel economy.”

Reflecting the acceptance that diesel vehicles are generally more fuel efficient, Leeds City Council has opted to focus on penalising dirtier lorries, buses and taxis instead, feeling that placing extra charges on diesel car drivers would “have a disproportionate impact on households” and that “the cost economically and socially of doing that would have been significant.”

What about fleets?

While it’s true that businesses and other organisations are increasingly considering petrol, hybrid and electric vehicles for their fleets, one major company index still sees diesel account for 71.4% of models. Fleet experts commonly express the opinion that there is still a place for diesel, which will remain the dominant fuel for several years to come. After all, many business drivers cover annual mileages in the tens of thousands, making petrol hybrids and certainly electric cars too expensive for them, along with fewer charging points and lengthier recharging times. Delivery vans and longer-distance couriers will also have no choice but to continue to rely on diesel for the foreseeable future, as alternatively-fuelled vans (AFV) are still scarce.

In conclusion

Petrol, hybrid and electric cars are becoming more and more popular, especially for private motorists who don’t drive more than around 15,000 miles per year and use A and B-roads most of the time. For other drivers who rack up higher annual mileages and cover long distances, often using motorways, diesel will still remain the most viable fuel for the next half a dozen years or so, particularly for business motorists. It is fair to say diesel is on its way out, but it’s got a lot of life still left in it yet.

The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership summed it up nicely at a recent conference when they said: “diesel is wounded, not dead.”