The diesel engine is like a religion in Europe. It was first promoted by governments as a way to fight back against the OPEC oil embargoes of the 1970s. Since then, taxes on diesel fuel have been lower than those on gasoline. Coupled with other economic incentives, the lower cost of driving means that 70% of all diesel-powered cars manufactured each year are sold in Europe.
The great Volkswagen cheating scandal of 2015 put a huge dent in diesel’s reputation. Volkswagen got caught, but it soon came out that virtually all the other companies who sell cars in Europe were doing much the same thing. Diesel sales have plunged and regulators now want to toughen emissions rules for diesel engine emissions.
Yet taxes on diesel fuel are still lower than for gasoline. The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) claims European governments lost more than $30 billion last year as a result of those lower taxes. But diesel cars have made a lot of money for the manufacturers over the years. Faced with the rapidly approaching age of electric cars, they would love to keep the diesel gravy train going just a little while longer. That desire has resulted in a concerted campaign of diesel greenwashing by the manufacturers and their principal suppliers.
Last week, the European Car Manufacturers Association (ACEA) weighed in on how it thinks diesel emissions should be regulated in the future. The head of the organization said diesels release 15–20% less carbon dioxide than their gasoline-powered counterparts. And who is the head of ACEA? Why, it is no less a personage than Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz.
ACEA’s pitch to regulators is the same as what is often heard on the other side of the pond from US automakers: Nobody wants to buy electric cars! And besides, there is no adequate charging infrastructure in place for them. Let us continue selling our diesel cars and we will meet your proposed goal of reducing emissions by another 20%.
Not so fast, says T&E. By their calculations, diesel cars actually emit 9.3% more CO2 than gasoline cars in real-world driving. And besides, what about the nitrous oxide emissions that diesels spew out of their tailpipes? The Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club known as the ADAC (think AAA for the autobahn) has tested 188 diesel cars recently. It’s findings are little comfort to the industry and are reflected in the chart below. All cars tested are supposed to meet the Euro 6 emissions standard in place since 2013.
BMW came out on top, with Renault in last place, but don’t start cheering yet. The BMW score was 0.141 grams of nitrous oxides per kilometer. The Euro 6 standard calls for no more than 0.080 grams per kilometer. In other words, none of the 188 cars tested were in compliance with the current rules. “A Renault Grand Scenic 160 dCi releases as much nitrogen oxides as about 240 BMW 520d cars,” claims the ADAC report. In testing, that particular model emitted 1,674 milligrams per kilometer.
The ADAC report suggests that all manufacturers will need to find ways to retrofit their existing diesel engines to bring them into compliance with existing regulations, never mind making them comply with stricter requirements due to take effect when the Euro 7 standard becomes effective.
Sorry, Dieter Zetsche, your diesel greenwashing is just so much hogwash. The sooner diesel cars are eliminated from Europe, the sooner Europeans will start living longer and enjoying better health during their lifetimes. Believe it or not, some things are more important that profits.