/ Motoring

Would you still buy a diesel?

Amid headlines of manufacturers cheating emission tests and the harmful effects of NOx on our health, is there any room left for a defence of diesel?

Diesels are distinctly out of fashion. With consumer confidence in them shot after various emissions scandals, higher UK road taxes, new MOT rules and some cities around the world banning them outright, driving a diesel seems to be becoming taboo.

Add to this growing public awareness of the effects of NOx emissions and the subsequent plummeting sales, and it seems it may be curtains for diesels.

Decline and fall

Since VW’s ‘Dieselgate’ rocked the world in 2015, sales of diesel cars have plummeted in the UK, falling from 50.1% of overall new car sales in 2014 to just 31.9% as of July, according to data published by the SMMT (Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders).

And it’s not without reason. Public awareness about NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions from diesels – linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths around the world – has grown massively.

Air pollution from vehicle emissions is a very real problem. In 2017, for example, it took just five days for Brixton Road in London to break its NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) limit for the entire year.

And the results from our new research paints a fairly dirty picture for diesel: on average, the 61 diesel cars we tested produced 0.27g/km of NOx – nearly three and a half times the official Euro 6 limit (0.08g/km).

Diesel defence

But does it have to be this way? Diesels generally produce less carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) than equivalent petrol cars.

And they don’t inherently have to be NOx-spewing monsters. Some manufacturers are starting to produce some squeaky clean diesel cars.

Currently they are the exception rather than the rule, but we’ve found two Mercedes and one BMW diesel car that produce less or the same NOx emissions as your average petrol.

AdBlue & SCR make a difference

More and more diesel cars are using Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). It’s an active emissions system that injects urea, most commonly AdBlue, into the exhaust system to cancel out harmful emissions.

And it makes difference. We found that diesel cars with an SCR system, on average, produced about a third of the NOx than cars without one.

So fitting these systems on all diesels could make a huge difference to NOx emissions.

But it’s really a question of whether manufacturers think it’s worth the cost to add these sophisticated systems to their entire range of diesel cars – something that will no doubt be influenced by the tough new on-road emission tests that will be in force for all new cars by September 2019, known as RDE step 1, and will require better real-life emission control than before.

Room for reform?

Some manufacturers clearly do think there’s public appetite for cleaner diesels, a Mercedes spokesperson telling us previously:

‘Our new engines are both highly efficient and produce low levels of NOx. It’s a fact that it’s worth improving the modern diesel instead of banning it.’

That’s one opinion, but it is true that relatively ‘clean’ diesel cars are possible – and available, if you’re willing to pay for them.

The problem is these ‘clean’ examples really are the exception and, it seems, time may already have been called on diesel generally.

But what do you think? Do you agree that diesel has a future if it can be improved? Is the public snubbing of diesel going too far?

What about if someone presented you with a clean diesel car – it produces less NOx, CO2 and CO, and costs the same as an equivalent petrol car – would you buy it or not?


This recent report may be of interest and is certainly worth reading by anyone promoting retention of diesel cars and vans: https://www.cleanairday.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=7eb71636-7d06-49cf-bb3e-76f105e2c631

“Notwithstanding these limitations* it is clear that the valuation of health effects associated with diesel vehicles are at least five times greater than those associated with petrol vehicles, and around twenty times greater than battery electric vehicles. These differences in valuation are likely to be substantially exacerbated if all health effects were included and a ‘Value of a Statistical Life’ metric were used instead of the ‘Value of Life Years’ metric for valuing premature deaths.”

Why does vehicle excise duty still depend to carbon dioxide emission? Carbon dioxide emission relates to fuel consumption, so can be taxed by the duty on fuel. I would suggest that it would make more sense to set VED rates according to the amount of nitrogen oxides and small particulates they produce.

The report refers to towns and cities. Some of us have already commented on the need to reduce or prohibit fossil fuelled vehicles, certainly at peak times, and not allow motorists to pay to pollute.

So clean conenient public transport would help.

The report seems concerned only with current technologies and does not look ahead (unless my quick scan missed it). It is very likely that engines will be made even cleaner under the pressure of pollution contols and regulations. So the future may still include diesels, a particular difficulty otherwise for heavy transport.

Where motoring is rural rather than urban there seems less of a problem. My view is a hybrid with sufficient range to handle city and town journeys will be a good answer.

A difficulty is that while we have much cleaner engines now there is a huge legacy of old ones – petrol and diesel- that produce excessive pollution. Do you ban these in urban driving?

Carbon dioxide is mentioned, but we do not control it; we simply pay more if we produce more. Why not aim to put a limit on it as we do with NOx? It might not go down to well with owners of gas guzzlers of course, but would help the environment.

Electric transport in cities would have been my top priority. I am a regular user of park & ride buses but they are diesel-powered. With a fixed route and the opportunity for charging when necessary at the out of town starting point, this seems an ideal opportunity to use electric vehicles.

Where I live, buses run hourly. I can cope with that but now that the last bus from town is at 5pm, it’s not very convenient. I suspect that if there ran later buses then they might be running with few passengers and possibly even empty. That’s not very environmentally sound.

It would not affect me much if cars were banned from city centres. I have little doubt that for the time being HGVs will remain powered by diesel. The priority must surely be for hybrid vans because they will be taken into built-up areas. The report I provided a link to does focus on vans. I’m more concerned about particulates and nitrogen oxides but would agree that a limit on carbon dioxide emissions could be worth investigating.

Commuting has received a great deal of criticism, but no-one has mentioned ‘company cars’, the usual name for vehicles provided by employees use. A great deal can be done by videoconferencing these days.

Company cars used to be a tax “dodge”. These days they seem to be more of a perk, except where they fulfill a business need.

Yes, but can we run organisations in a more efficient way than having employees drive round the country? Plumbers, gas fitters and electricians need vans but very effective meetings, for example, can be conducted by videoconferencing without everyone driving to the same venue having a meeting and then driving home. Commuting has been soundly criticised but maybe we should question why employees are provided with cars – often not small and economical ones.

A company car substitutes for the employees owning their own car so are unlikely to add to congestion or pollution. Many companies, and certainly those I worked for, chose the vehicles carefully to keep their costs, both capital and operating , to a minimum. They are also modern engines, unlike the likely older vehicles the employees might have to buy, so will help reduce pollution.

Many employees need to visit customers and suppliers, for example; the only realistic way of doing so is by car. However, the car is taxed as a benefit in kind on which top rate income tax is paid so they are not a perk – and have not been for many years. In fact it pays many employees to buy their own car and get a mileage allowance when it is used on company business.

I’ve often heard people – young and old – crowing to each other about their latest company car, much in the way that they do when the have the latest phone. Of course it is a perk, just to a lesser extent than in the past.

In your day as a company rep you visited customers and suppliers but I’m suggesting that other approaches will cut down the number of cars on the road. If samples need to be provided, put them in the post. It will save employees’ time and paying for expenses.

I think unless you have been involved in industry you will not understand the personal interactions that need to take place. When I visited a customer their was far more involved than just showing them a sample, and if visiting a supplier much was learned that could not be done remotely.

The days of company cars as a so-called perk are gone. they were a part of the total remuneration, anyway, not a gift, and attracted substantial tax. They also provided people with less polluting cars than they might otherwise have had to buy for themselves. The envy attached to company cars went for most very many years ago.

I have actually had quite a lot of contact with industry and people who work in it, Malcolm, and round here, people do regard their company cars as perks.

How often did you use videoconferencing as an alternative to meetings? When I was working with a US company we either spoke on the phone or had videoconference sessions on Fridays. In these days we had only one VC suite in the university but when I retired every department had facilities thanks to the move from expensive multiple ISDN lines to high speed internet.

They might be regarded as perks by those who get a new car when they would otherwise buy a secondhand one, but they are “perks” they pay for and for many they would be better off, if they could afford it, buying their own car – even secondhand. I saw directly in a number of companies the attitude towards company cars.

Some employees have to travel a great deal for their company and it is only fair to provide them with the means to do that.

If we go back to my original point, these cars are doing a lot of mileage and as with commuting, this could and should be reduced. Elsewhere you have suggested that we need to cut down on car use.

I don’t know how this mileage ” should be reduced” Having direct experience, no one in our conpanies travelled further than was necessary to do their jobs, as travelling time was largely unproductive.

If I needed to visit a customer a couple of hundred miles away it was because it was needed, not because I wanted a (very long) day out. If I visited a steel product manufacturer, and the train was not convenient or I had product to take, it was because I needed to see and discuss processes. I was as anxious as anyone else to be home rather than out on the road.

Criticism of “company cars” seems to centre around videoconferencing as the alternative. This might be appropriate in academic circles where information was verbally and maybe visually exchanged but my experience of business and industry was that it was not useful in many cases. Emails, phone calls, were used when sensible as time was precious and expensive but hard, for example, to assess a site with a client unless you visited. Unproductive time was not useful to profitability, so employees were wise in their choice of the best way to use it.

Videoconferencing is only one way of avoiding the need for driving. Use of emails and the phone are others. When I suggested videoconferencing in one of the Friday conference phone calls with a US company we did that the next week and at regular intervals.

What is wrong with aiming to reduce the use of company cars if we want to reduce commuting, air travel etc to improve the environment?

It’s cutting down on distance travelled by company cars that matters to me.

If you want an example of a perk I have a friend who was given a new car before he resigned as a director and kept the personal number plate that has been tweaked to look like the company name. According to the information about the company he was born in July 1939, appointed on 11 September 1995 and retired with his shiny new car on 9 May 2017. He refers to it as one of the perks of his job. At least he does not cover large distances now.

This seems to assume that industry and business was incapable of deciding the way it needed to ooerate. Efficient use of resources is probably more of a priority in enterprises that depend for their survival on profitability. I think having had experience of the way these enterprises work I’ll leave it there.

My son bought a number plate for his private car that he also uses for work. It cost him around £150 and gives his firm a bit of added kudos particularly when meeting visitors. Why is that bad?

What evidence do you have that company cars cover excessive distances? And what do you think they are doing when they allegedly make inappropriate use of them? It was certainly not the case in any of the companies large, and small, where I worked. Did you have direct experience of working in organisations using company cars, out of intrere?

Why should it be assumed comoany car drivers travel further than they need? Motoring is not a pleasurable experience these days.

If you travel to see family or friends do you normally avoid using your car and travel by train?

All I am suggesting is that there is the opportunity to cut down on the amount that company cars are used. Is that unreasonable? We have agreed that there are opportunities for living closer to work and measures to reduce driving conventional cars in cities.

I had access to various vehicles at work, the only work vehicle I ever drove was the ancient (1981) but well maintained minibus without power steering. 🙁 We could use our own vehicle subject to having appropriate insurance, though we were recommended to hire cars because that was cheaper than paying us 40p per mile.

I’m not sure of the relevance of my own transport here but I’m happy to discuss this in The Lobby. I never said it was bad to have a personal number plate. In fact I suggested this as a painless way that the government could raise money.

This avoids the question of why you believe company car use is excessive. Living closer to work is an issue for all drivers and other commuters, not just those with company cars.

I simply asked about your car use since I’d suggest using a train would reduce the use of a car. I wondered, in the context of excessive car use, whether this was your practice. I don’t see that how much a car is used is dependent upon whether it is a company car or not.

I use my private car because it is convenient and I use it for pleasure. When I had a company car I used it for essential and necessary business use aswell. I didn’t have the time, nor the desire, to make unneccesary journeys. I had too much work to do.

As I said, all I am suggesting is that there is the opportunity to cut down on the amount that company cars are used, since no-one else had raised this point. Some cover very high annual mileages.

My most common journey is about 20 miles, 40 miles return, to do work for a charity. There is no bus or train. When I attend meetings I often car-share unless they are nearby.

I could not find an official figure for average company car mileage but this page mentions 19,800 miles per year: https://leasing.com/car-leasing-news/company-car-drivers-could-save-by-switching-to-electric-car/

I am not expecting company cars to disappear overnight any more than everyone managing to live close enough to work to travel by bike, but anything that can be done to cut down mileage is welcome. As you said recently we have a planet to consider and that has been a concern of mine for years. And yes we can all do our best to minimise our personal driving.

I tend to agree with Malcolm here.

I think the “mileage reduction measures advocated by wavechange are already widely used.

Malcolm has also explained why this is already the case.

I do hope that further savings are possible. There must be opportunities for innovation.

Another concern of mine is the mileage covered by delivery vehicles. Some time back I had a delivery from Richer Sounds and I tracked the progress of the large delivery van, which kept coming nearer and going further away. Eventually he arrived out of breath, collected my signature and hurried back to the van to continue on his route to deliver the rest of over 60 consignments. I could have planned a much shorter route but no doubt this had been designed so that the next parcel to be delivered was accessible and not hidden behind a pile of heavy boxes. It still gave me a poor impression of the organisation of deliveries, often referred to as logistics these days.

With us increasingly dependent on home deliveries I can see scope for cutting done the amount of driving. Royal Mail manage to collect post from all round the country but don’t make a special delivery every time there is a letter for me. Mine is delivered at the same time as other post to homes in the street. I wonder if there is the possibility of coordinating delivery of small and non-urgent packages to cut down the number of vans on the roads.

“I wonder if there is the possibility of coordinating delivery of small and non-urgent packages to cut down the number of vans on the roads.”

wavechange – this already exists in the form of “click and collect”.

If, however, we were living in some sort of socialist utopia, there would be a national postal service, whose parcels department could then deliver once a day to every street in the country.

For private delivery companies, time and mileage will be costs that they seek to minimise, but there may be a point where the efforts required for absolute minimisation introduce complications that might hamper operations, not least their speed or timeliness. Not least for groceries, many consumers seem to value knowing the time when items will be delivered.

Also, if consumers order stuff for home delivery, shouldn’t they be responsible for the environment impacts of their purchases?

As ever, the “4R’s” (Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle) apply.

average company car mileage ……………….. 19,800 miles per year: . From my past experience of company car users this is a fair estimate. Take off the average 8000 for personal use and you are left with around 370 miles a week. That doesn’t cover many journeys. Many spend most of their time out on the road visiting customers, clients, attending site……..One or two part days out can easily use most of those miles.

I spent most of my time in my lab and office, but when necessary visited suppliers, new and old, clients for prospective business or to look at a problem, assisted technical people in the field, gave lectures, attended technical meetings and conferences…….. I travelled at least 20 000 a year and, whilst I enjoyed driving (as much as you can these days) I had no wish to travel further than was necessary. All in the name of developing business, so no way could it be regarded as “unnecessary”.

I would still like to know why company car drivers should, allegedly, decide to drive far more miles than they could, and where these mileage savings are supposed to come from.

Delivery companies plan their journeys to be as efficient as possible, in terms of time and distance. This allows the maximum number of deliveries in a day with the least cost in what is a very competitive industry. One example does not demonstrate failure.

However, if you want next day, or timed delivery to your home, as DerekP says, there are penalties. We could suggest next day delivery were banned as a promise so more efficient delivery might be achieved. Consumers, if they were so minded, could campaign for this? But I doubt many would be enthusiastic.

Perhaps we should abandon home delivery and require collection from a local central point? But then the many stockists and producers would still require vans to collect goods from them and distribute over the country to the many local points – where you’d have to use your care and its fuel to collect your goods……… and what about the frail and disabled?

I could envisage one national collection and delivery service for all goods to be delivered to private individuals and business. In theory it should be most efficient solution. But I wonder as a monopoly, in the absence of competition and its vulnerability to industrial action for example, just how it might fare in the real world.

I am reminded that the title of this Convo is “hybrids-diesel-petrol cars” and this thread seems to have taken a wrong turning. Perhaps Lobby 2 or a new Convo on delivering stuff to consumers?

Derek – It would be interesting to know whether ‘click & collect’ helps cut down on mileage overall. It might work best if supermarkets provided this facility since we are likely to be going there any. Our Morrisons offers this but only for Amazon deliveries. I’ve never used it.

I do try and order several items from the same source but probably for good reasons they are often delivered on different days and even in separate packets.

Malcolm – I have made no allegations about excessive company car use but as with other forms of transport, I hope that there are possibilities to reduce this.

“these cars are doing a lot of mileage and ………………. this could and should be reduced.“. This rather suggests you consider they are used excessively and wastefully.

Tesco, Waitrose, and I’m sure others, offer click and collect, and a lot of small outlets – village shops and small chains belong to a scheme. For the latter there is usually an extra charge, around £2.50 I think – if you want a delivery this way. Good if you are not sure if you’ll be at home when your parcel arrives.

Once again, I am suggesting is that there is the opportunity to cut down on the amount that company cars are used. Is that unreasonable?

I have collected from both Tesco (when I lived a big Tesco) and Waitrose (orders from John Lewis, but unfortunately not near). When I was working I was able to have packages sent to our postal room at work – a perk of the job.

There seems to be little immediate opportunity for replacing diesel HGVs but perhaps there is scope for electric or hybrid delivery vans, especially where deliveries are made in cities.

I have organised four different deliveries [ten separate consignments] for today so I think I am doing my bit for logistical efficiency!

One of the deliveries is from Sainsbury’s where I picked the slot and have ordered a month or more’s supply of basic household commodities and cupboard items as well as the fresh, chilled and frozen foodstuffs; this will avoid the need both for us to go to the store for a big shop and for further deliveries to the home for a few weeks. I picked a ‘green’ slot for this delivery when there will also be deliveries to nearby houses thus saving time, mileage, fuel and emissions.

I have programmed the remainder to fit around the Sainsbury’s delivery so far as possible. DPD [for John Lewis] have already delivered bang on time according to their e-mail notification. The next delivery is due early this afternoon with two bulky consignments. I don’t know when the three items coming from Amazon will arrive because their tracking system is rather unsophisticated and the delivery could be at any time up to 10:00 pm, but the time doesn’t matter because I am here anyway and it is saving journeys to three different shops that might not have the products in stock when we arrive anyway.

I agree that it would be helpful to ensure that the minimum number of vans are on the road as necessary but Derek has pointed out why that might not be the best operational solution; some customers specify a morning delivery and it makes sense to factor time in as well as distance and organise the round accordingly. I doubt it would be practical to share work between carriers for a number of reasons, one of which is likely to be the price to the consignor; service quality and control might also be a concern. To some extent, rationalisation has already occurred in the parcels sector with a number of firms going out of business or being taken over by others and I would expect further consolidation to occur in order to spread the overheads across greater volumes [half-empty vans are not earning their keep].

Given that ‘logistics’ is the organisation of functions in the most efficient and economical way within the specifications and within the budgets and practical operating constraints prevailing [my definition] I would expect the industry to be functioning fairly efficiently already. Additional capacity is routinely hired in to cope with peaks and is laid off when not required and the better firms already schedule their rounds by computer programme to optimise routes and service delivery.

Years ago there were few carriers and most small deliveries to the home were by Royal Mail. That monopoly was taken away and new companies sprang up but Parcelforce are still the major nationwide delivery organisation and have upgraded their service to match other companies with tracking and timed delivery options. The railways were the other major carriers but were under a legal obligation to carry anything anywhere so the service became dreadfully inefficient and unreliable once the motorways opened the country up to long-distance road haulage and overnight deliveries.

Click-&-Collect has introduced a new facility for on-line and mail order supply but that actually leads to more personal two-way car journeys so might not represent an environmental benefit overall since a van delivery round is usually a one-way circuit by the shortest practical route.

In reply to https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/hybrids-diesel-petrol-cars/#comment-1541784

cut down on the amount that company cars are used. Is that unreasonable?“. It is unless you can show they are badly used. I’ve explained my direct experience of use of company cars where, in general, they were properly and necessarily used.

However, I don’t see without any fresh information this is leading anywhere. Back to diesel cars;, perhaps? 🙂

wavechange, you just said: “Once again, I am suggesting is that there is the opportunity to cut down on the amount that company cars are used. Is that unreasonable?”

I think malcolm and I have both already said that companies really do already understand and use all obvious available opportunities for reducing car mileage.

Over and above the direct costs of vehicles, fuel and staff time, companies must also consider Health and Safety. Business driving can easily be the most dangerous activety undertaken by many workers, so that alone provides a good reason for minimising it.

Environmental concerns provide a further reason for minimising vehicle mileages and at least some businesses will want to do more than just paying lip service there.

I am not questioning your experience but I have given an example of how I managed to avoid driving hire cars to airports and air travel, and still manage to collaborate effectively with a company. We made use of postal services to exchange samples for materials for testing. I’m not sure I would have liked to be found in possession of samples of white powder at an airport. 🙁

In the five I was hounded by reps from Pearson and other science publishers wanting me to recommend their books for my modules – 260 students in the first year. Sometimes they turned up but usually I was able to ask for inspection copies to be put in the post, saving them a long drive. Likewise, I did not need someone to give me a personal demonstration of online learning resources that accompany most student texts, just an email with the login details.

Companies would do similar things where it was sensible. Why should they behave differently from anyone else? I generally took the train to the airport.

We too used carriers for products. However if you wish, for example, to demonstrate a product to a customer it is often best to do it face to face.

As Derek and I have said, most companies need to ensure that they operate as efficiently and sensibly as possible when their profitability is at stake. They are, in the main, not inept.

Somehow this topic started with criticising company cars as a “perk” and not as a necessary tool to do a job. For many, who need to use a car regularly on their company’s business, it is exactly that, a tool for job.

Thanks wavechange – your link gives some interesting data.

It would have been even more informative if it also covered emissions from lorries, buses and trains.

With regard to VED, we could just abolish it and tax petrol and diesel according to their pollution costs, i.e. over and above any general levels of tax.

Always thought that made a great deal more sense.

If the VED supported the organisation’s costs in keeping a central register of vehicles, staff to check recalls, and other jobs associated with monitoring the whole UK fleet then I think it makes sense. However, that could (should?) involve a fixed annual charge that is the same for every vehicle, irrespective of type and size.

It should depend on environmental impact including pollution (nitrogen oxides, particulates, carbon dioxide) and estimates relate to manufacture and disposal. Why should it be the same for every vehicle, irrespective of type and size?

If the work involved and the cost of maintaining the database is the same for all vehicles then why should we not all pay the same? Perhaps we should be charged extra when we use their services, such as scrapping or transferring ownership of a car.

If you want to penalise people for fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions this will be done through fuel prices. NOx will in future be dealt with by regulation.

I wonder how the govt will tax fuel for electric vehicles when ownership grows and the loss of petrol and diesel vat and duty becomes a problem?

Not all vehicles produce the same amounts of nitrogen oxides or particulates, so the VED should depend on these factors and an estimate of the environmental impact of manufacture and subsequent disposal of vehicles.

Unlike CO₂, which is not limited and on which VED is based (I believe still) there are NOx limits being introduced for all new cars.There will be no means as far as I can see of extending a NOx tax to the many older cars on the road as they will not have been put through the RDE tests.So I see no reason to differentiate them.

Electric cars and PHEVs would presumably attract quite a high tax if you based it on manufacturing resources used and disposal impact.

Jean Xavier says:
19 August 2018

I will always buy a diesel car – they are more efficient, more reliable, have greater pulling power (torque) and they are safer. Electric cars are for city dwellers.

I’ve always had a diesel car and wouldn’t have petrol they’re nowhere near as responsive.
In fact I think it’s the way we have been told to drive them that is at fault.
I did over 200,000 miles in my first and it was as good, engine wise as the day I bought it.
Never let the revs go below 1500.
The same with my present diesel which has now done 100,000

Ian Hart says:
19 August 2018

I like diesel’s; although they do have their faults, but if you are a high mileage driver, they make a lot of practical sense. I have recently swapped my very low mileage diesel, for something smaller & petrol powered – because: my low mileage usage, made the diesel engine a less viable option. More so in the winter months, I quite often got to my destination, before the engine had managed to warm up properly; as 90% of my journeys now are ten miles or less. I never experienced any DPF problems though, simply because once a month, I did run the engine on a longer trip, specifically to regenerate the catalytic- converter. The replacement vehicle, had I opted for another diesel, had been priced out of my financial comfort zone, & I feel that this was done in order to force a change towards petrol, hybrids or all electric vehicles – although I did not want to be bothered with topping up the Ad Blue, with the new diesel offerings either. My new,1.4 petrol engined car, is a better bet for me than going electric or sticking with DERV.

Members should hear from you more about cars other than german prestige models that you seem to give preference to. Japanese brands are regarded more highly in the U.S.A. Why no reports on the present Honda Civic Diesel which is well regarded for low emissions ,that i am considering as a next car

If it were simply down to making the most of the latest technology available, moving away from fossil fuel and enjoying the global health benefits as a result; then obviously, it would be time to “ditch the diesel”. But the truth is, it ISN’T as simple as that. The greatest polluters are commercial vehicles, for which there are no genuine alternatives available. Yet. The purchase cost of the vehicle is paramount for most car buyers; with reliability, longevity and fuel economy also featuring highly. Those concerned about the environment should also look a little more closely at the production of electric and hybrid cars; sourcing precious metals and battery components arguably have a much larger impact on the planet than oil wells. And would either an electric or hybrid last for 200,000 miles? I’m with the sceptics on that one. Electric car charging is improving dramatically, but for the most part, the electricity is still supplied by that big, eco-friendly power station down the road. 😉
I recently came into some money and decided to treat myself to a new car. I looked at all the alternatives, hybrids first and foremost, as I honestly would like to “go green” and “do my bit”. But at the end of the day, I had to put aside my global conscience and ignore the rhetoric. Reality dictated that I had to consider the purchase price, running and service costs, allied with the performance and usability of the vehicle. And I plumped for a new diesel. It complies with the latest Euro VI standards and uses Adblue, so is cleaner than many petrol cars out there. I’m happy with my decision.
Will this be my last diesel? I don’t know. For me, the financial gap is still too great, to grasp the nettle of an alternatively powered vehicle. I can’t justify it. Meanwhile, I’m still hoping for great things from Hydrogen cells, which could knock the spots off current hybrids.

Electric cars — electric vans —- electric buses —- electric trains —- electric ships !!! will we ever have the generating ability to meet the requirement without fossil or nuclear fuel? — I doubt it. If change in the way we move around the country is really necessary lets plan the thing properly and not rush to change hastily at the behest of those who have a ‘hobby horse’ to ride — excuse the pun!

Heavy-duty vehicles – trucks and buses – are responsible for about a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU and for some 6% of total EU emissions
On 17 May 2018, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal setting the first ever CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles in the EU.

The proposed targets for average CO2 emissions from new lorries:

In 2025, 15% lower than in 2019
In 2030, at least 30 % lower than in 2019 (indicative target, subject to review in 2022)
The proposal also includes a mechanism to incentivise the uptake of zero- and low-emission vehicles, in a technology-neutral way.

This will clearly drive the introduction of cleaner and cleaner diesel engines with, no doubt, consequences for all such engines. There is currently (no pun on EVs) no realistic alternative for HGVs than diesels.

Gerald Buzzacott says:
20 August 2018

I never liked diesels due to their pollution and definitely would not buy one now.

Convos about emissions and commuter problems seem to focus on trains and cars. In the recent train convo I pointed out, a little off topic, that Japan solved a great deal of their congestion with the Honda 50 Super Cub. So, when many commute singly, perhaps we could produce a clean hybrid version of the Super Cub for use on the not-too distant commutes. Imagine how that would reduce congestion on roads, speed up journeys, increase the capacity of car parks, and reduce travelling cost. Great also for travelling around within towns and cities.

If we provided incentives for people to buy and use these I could see real progress while we tackle longer term issues. OK, on a wet, cold day we might revert to cars, but otherwise……

And what an opportunity for an enterprising UK manufacturer to produce a motorised advanced commuter hybrid Mk 1 (mach 1).

Could a convo calling for ideas to solve congestion problems in creative ways be of interest, perhaps?

Strangely enough Malcolm, Honda have recent announced their PCX range of electric and hybrid scooters.

Most certainly. But would Which? do anything with the results? It could start perhaps by collecting together the constructive proposals a number of commenters have already posted.

Fair points, Malcolm. We are certainly collecting the responses and proposals that have been left here, and Oscar is working with Adrian to get everyone responses. Convos are always a vital source of ideas and feedback, but I do understand the frustration around what happens after, as well as communication/involvement – as I’ve said elsewhere I’m going to work as hard as I can to address this higher up the chain.

As you know though, Convo has provided numerous case studies over the years, and even the nuisance calls campaign was born here – I want to see more success stories like that. But anyway, I mustn’t get too off-topic and break our own rules 😉 Let’s follow up in the Lobby/Shaping the Future discussions.

Hi all, Adrian is on leave this week but will be preparing responses when back early next week.

Where is the alternative if you want to tow a caravan or boat. I can’t imagine that an electric car, in the time scales mentioned, will be able to replace a diesel as a tow car. Also I just can’t see how it will be possible to ramp up the infrastructure (+ cost implications) to make the prospect of all of us having electric cars workable in the time mentioned.

Diesels provide a blend of high torque and low revving flexibility which is not incompatible with low emissions, especially when fitted with an adblue system. Manufacturers need to promote these advantages whilst ensuring they comply with Euro 6 standards.

I have driven diesels for the last 15 years, and a hybrid for about 6 months, and petrol for about 20 years. My current Diesel is 2 years old so is not perfect but not one of the big bad ones for NOx.
When it come to my next car, maybe a year away, I’ll be very concerned about pollution so if the cost and general features of a diesel car are not much different to petrol and the pollution is the same or better, then I would go diesel again, as long as the fuel tax is not increased significantly which is still a real possibility. If petrol cars gave the same or better performance in terms of fuel and acceleration etc then I’d probably go petrol of even hybrid.

I own both a petrol and diesel car, and prefer drivng a diesel because they have some much more power and grunt

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Please could we have a list to show which manufacturers tape up the doors, over-inflate the tyres, use non-standard oil, remove seats and mirrors, and cheat in other ways to make their cars perform better under test conditions.

As your link points out preparations are in hand to cheat in the new tests.

As we’ve discussed before, if manufacturers’ regard these tests as any kind of competition, then anything not explicitly banned will be regarded as permissible actions and not as “cheating”.

Those of us who have set tests, exams and assessments of our own will known all about the need to define what is, and what is not, permissible.

When I used to work in certain fields within the area of “dangerous goods” transport, tests often required items to be “as presented for transport”. It would be good to know if similar provisions are in the new regulations, e.g. cars might need to be “as delivered to customers”.

Ultimately however, really objective and unbiased tests ought to be carried out by independent test houses and not by manufacturers.

Independent testing is what I’ve been advocating for years, Derek. Unless things have changed, products tested from Which? are bought from retailers, eliminating the possibility that they could be prepared to perform well in tests.

At the university where I worked, what constituted cheating was anything that might give a student an unfair advantage, both in general terms and with respect to their colleagues. Applying this to car testing, any modifications to improve performance in testing would be cheating unless the rules specifically allowed doors to be taped up, tyres over-inflated, etc.

Wave change – taping doors up is not unfair if everyone is allowed to do it.

What it IS though, is unrealistic and unrepresentative.

I agree absolutely if the testing protocol stated that taping doors was permitted.

Our ‘unfair means’ regulations covered all ways of achieving an advantage, irrespective of whether these are well known (taking notes into an exam room) or ones that had not been encountered before. If a car manufacturer decided that their car would produce lower emissions on a different fuel from normal petrol or diesel that’s a cheat that does not feature in the list in Duncan’s link or others articles that I have seen. It’s very obviously unfair means. That is why the protocol must specify what is allowed and as you say make it fair to all manufacturers. It would be interesting to see the protocols for the existing and new tests.

From the EC 2018 and a JRC report “The 4th RDE act ensures transparent and independent control of emissions of vehicles during their lifetime. Type approval authorities will have to check each year the emissions of vehicles already in circulation (“in-service conformity” testing). Type approval authorities, independent parties and the Commission will be able to perform officially recognised tests through accredited laboratories and technical services.

Emissions performance of Euro 6b vehicles
In 2017, the JRC tested a number of vehicles, most of which were type approved for Euro 6b emission limits (i.e. pre-RDE vehicles).The tests were carried out both in the laboratory and on the road and were conducted to evaluate the emissions performance of these vehicles.

The tests primarily contribute to an understanding of which technologies are the cleanest at a given point in time.They also allow for checking whether there have been improvements to the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions performance of diesel vehicles.

All the tested vehicles complied with the applicable pollutant emissions limits on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) tests. With respect to RDE tests, while all the tested gasoline Euro 6b vehicles were already below the future NOx Euro 6d-TEMP conformity threshold, only 2 of the 7 diesel Euro 6b vehicles tested were found to be below the NOx Euro 6d-TEMP conformity threshold. Under laboratory and RDE tests, and for the (small) vehicle sample, the NOx emissions of Euro 6b diesel vehicles were still, on average, eight times higher than those of Euro 6b gasoline vehicles.

However, the diesel cars performed much better than gasoline cars in tests on other regulated pollutants – carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (measured only in laboratory conditions only) and ultrafine particulate matter.

The NOx emissions of diesel cars are expected to be substantially reduced following the introduction of the RDE requirements, in force for type approval of vehicles since September 2017.

The EC in its letter and report says the manufacturers may use the transition between NEDC and WLTP “to inflate their WLTP emissions levels in 2020”. They are proposing actions including using a measured WLTP result rather than a declared, and vehicle configuration to be the same for WLTP as NEDC. In their investigation they found 2 vehicles tested with depleted battery, no stop start and higher engine speed, and one occasion of a different automatic gear shift pattern (as far as I can see).

Emissions are now being measured on the road under the Real Driving Experience test procedure to determine real life emissions, measured against regulatory values. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-18-3646_en.htm

The 4th RDE act ensures transparent and independent control of emissions of vehicles during their lifetime. Type approval authorities will have to check each year the emissions of vehicles already in circulation (“in-service conformity” testing). Type approval authorities, independent parties and the Commission will be able to perform officially recognised tests through accredited laboratories and technical services.

Hi Malcolm and others with queries for Adrian, he’s still on leave this week but we’ll get you some responses next week. I hope everyone has a great weekend!

And you, Oscar. It looks as if it’s going to be a warm weekend.

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I’m getting a bit confused because I’m currently allowed to drive my diesel car (Euro 5 I believe) in the ‘ultra low emission zone’ until next April, after which it says I can pay to pollute: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/vrm-checker-ulez

I welcome moves to keep diesel and petrol vehicles (other than hybrids) out of city centres, especially where there is a serious problem with pollution.

Some of us have been suggesting this for a long time – restricting polluting vehicles at peak times

As far as the expanded Ultra Low Emission Zone is concerned non-compliant vehicles will pay a daily charge of £12.50. I don’t see how you can offset the damage pollution causes by allowing a payment. But travel in these areas would have to be provided by a suitable comprehensive network of public transport which I doubt exists.

I wonder how residents with non-compliant vehicles will fare? “Residents who are registered for the residents’ Congestion Charge discount will get a 100% ULEZ discount until 24 October 2021 to give them more time to change their vehicle to meet the ULEZ standards. Residents will continue to pay the T-Charge, at a discounted rate of 90%, during this ULEZ resident sunset period.

The ULEZ daily charge will be in addition to the weekday Congestion Charge and the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) charge.“.

If you use your residents car 200 days a year it will cost you £2500 extra (after tax). Could be a lot of cars for sale and a boom in EV and PHEVs and good business for secondhand car dealers. TfL point out:
“Upgrade to a second hand vehicle that meets ULEZ standards
Nearly all petrol vehicles produced since 2005 are compliant with the ULEZ standards and so will be 16 years old by the time ULEZ is expanded in 2021
Vehicles which meet the equivalent of the Euro 4 NOx standard for petrol have been available to purchase since 2001 and so will be 20 years old by the time ULEZ is expanded in 2021
The average cost of a 16 year old vehicle is around £1000 and the average cost of a 20 year old vehicle is around £500

It might depend upon the pollutants that concern them “However, the diesel cars performed much better than gasoline cars in tests on other regulated pollutants – carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (measured only in laboratory conditions only) and ultrafine particulate matter.

“To help improve air quality, an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will be in place in central London from 8 April 2019.
The ULEZ standards are:

Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
Euro 4 for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
Euro 6 for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
Euro VI for lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles

Carbon monoxide was never a problem with diesels engines compared with petrol ones. I would be interested in evidence on the ultrafine particulate matter – what I believe is normally referred to as PM2.5.

In earlier discussions I’ve suggested that if the same efforts are put into development of the diesel engine as has been done with petrol engines (which used to emit lead and various carcinogenic chemicals) they could lose their current reputation of being very dirty. Hybrid vehicles might be the best solution for cars and light vans but we still need diesel power for HGVs and a wide variety of other applications.

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Maybe it will help humans too, but I have not heard any reports.

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It says fossil fuels 33%, livestock 27%, landfill and waste 16%, Biomass and biofuels 13%, 9% rice agriculture.
Of natural methane sources wetlands are by far the biggest at 78%. Termites 12%. Oceans 10%.


I will ruminate on what Ermias Kebreab has to say and report back. I assume that the contribution of methane from livestock is greater in the western world where meat and dairy products are an important part of the diet. I fear we are heading off-topic but it’s diesely done.

Not if we collect the methane and make use of it.

“The backpack manages to capture and collect the gases emitted through the cow’s mouth or intestinal tract via a tube inserted through the cow’s skin (which the researchers claim is painless). The gas is then condensed and ready to use to provide power for the farm….

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Having had a look at the work of Ermias Kebreab at UC Davis there are papers on methane emissions but I can find no published work on how these can be controlled by seaweed, which is still under investigation: https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/can-seaweed-cut-methane-emissions-dairy-farms/ Apparently the cows did not take to curry supplements.

Methane is of course the main component of natural gas and both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG) are fuels that can be used to power vehicles, and are cleaner alternatives to diesel and petrol.

If they sell the methane, do these become “cash cows” ?

You could harvest it from the cowlings…

Very good. I’m not sure how we harvest methane exhaled by cattle but biogas produced by anaerobic fermentation is widely used to produce fuel, including CNG for vehicles.

This seems to tackle exhaust emissions rather differently from the EU.