Biased regulations and taxes skew European market in favour of diesel – report

Biased regulations and unfair taxes have skewed the car market in Europe in favour of diesels, a new study has found. Diesel engine cars account for around half of sales in the EU while in the rest of the world they are a niche product.

The T&E study, Diesel: the true (dirty) story, finds three causes for the addiction to diesel in Europe, which buys 7 out of 10 new diesel cars and vans sold globally while the US buys less than 1% and China less than 2%. First, distorted national fuel and vehicle taxes see diesel fuel taxed between 10% and 40% less than petrol in most EU countries. This “diesel bonus” deprived national budgets of almost €32 billion in tax revenue in 2016 alone.

A second cause lies in the unfair Euro emission standards that for decades have allowed diesel cars to emit more NOx than petrol. The problem has been worsened by the use of obsolete tests (which were recently updated) and ineffective regulatory oversight that has allowed carmakers to fit cheap, ineffective exhaust controls that they turn down or off most of the time.

Thirdly, the study finds that as EU car CO2 regulations were designed to favour heavier vehicles by raising carmakers targets by 3.3g CO2/km for every additional 100kg, they end up favouring diesel vehicles.

T&E’s clean vehicles manager, Julia Poliscanova, said: ‘The legacy of Dieselgate are the 37 million grossly polluting diesel cars still on Europe’s roads. While some of them will be taken off German roads, these dirty cars will soon end up in Central and Eastern Europe choking citizens there. We need concerted and coordinated action EU-wide to ensure these cars stop belching toxic fumes for another 10-15 years.’

‘It is time for the carmakers to take responsibility for their clean up and cash out for the local measures to tackle the urban air pollution crisis they have largely caused. National vehicle regulators must ensure this happens or the European Commission step in and sort out the mess.’

While the Dieselgate scandal continues, the study also shows that diesel cars not only pollute the air but also emit more CO2 emissions than petrol cars. A lifecycle analysis of vehicle emissions proves that diesel cars over its lifetime emit 3.65 tonnes of CO2 more than a petrol equivalent. This is due to: a more energy-intensive refining of the diesel fuel; more materials required in the production of heavier and more complex engines; higher emissions from the biodiesel blended in the diesel fuel; and longer mileage driven because fuel is cheaper.

The findings torpedo manufacturers’ long-time claim that diesel cars are good for the climate. In fact carmakers’ marketing brochures and websites show that the difference between comparable diesel and petrol engines ranges from zero to a few grams of CO2. Yet diesel cars typically cost €2,000-3,000 more than petrol ones. Meanwhile, the current alternatives such as petrol hybrid vehicles are priced similarly to diesel but emit around 20-25% less CO2.

Poliscanova concluded said: ‘Dieselgate already exposed diesel cars to be the dominant cause of toxic nitrogen dioxide across European cities that is killing 68,000 Europeans annually. Contrary to industry claims, we have learned diesel cars are also worse for the climate than petrol versions and are not needed to meet car CO2 targets. Europe must now look forward and accelerate the transition to clean, electrified vehicles and consign dirty diesels to museums.’

Two years after Volkswagen were caught cheating emissions tests, researchers have now concluded that there have been more than 4,500 premature deaths annually in Europe because diesel cars emitted far higher levels of pollution than claimed. The new study, published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, said that around 10,000 deaths in Europe every year are caused by NOx pollution from diesel cars and vans.