Cars with engines: can they ever be clean?

This report marks the third anniversary of the Dieselgate scandal. Whilst the scandal started with US regulators exposing cheating of nitrogen oxide emissions tests by Volkswagen, it quickly spread globally to affect almost every carmaker and every market in which diesel cars are sold. Subsequent work has shown that diesel emissions tests are not the only ones being manipulated – gasoline, CO2 tests and even those affecting safety systems are manipulated.

When the scandal broke in 2015 there were 29 million grossly polluting diesel cars on the road. After three years, the number of dirty diesel cars and vans on the road today are still rising. This report estimates that there are now 43 million. This includes: 8.7 million in France; 8.2 million in Germany; 7.3 million in the UK and 5.3 million in Italy. Many of these cars are now being exported eastwards and ultimately will head to Africa. If Europe does not act, high emitting diesel cars will be polluting the air of cities around the world for decades and, in the process, shortening lives.

To clean up Europe’s air and help millions of citizens suffering the health effects a seven-step programme is needed that includes:
1. action to clean up the 43 million dirty diesel cars and vans on the road today EU wide;
2. action to prevent the sale and use of grossly polluting cars that have not been properly fixed;
3. support for cities to design their urban vehicle access restriction policies as they see fit for local circumstances, public health and environment and help them target ALL grossly polluting cars using remote sensing;
4. have carmakers contribute to a Clean Air Fund to help cities across Europe meet the EU air quality standards – €10 for every new car sold would raise over €150 million per year
5. reform of the RDE regulation to be more representative of the way cars are really used and
driven;
6. vehicle emissions checked over entire lifetime, including independent third-party tests and strengthened periodic testing framework;
7. a new Euro 7 emissions limit.

This report comprehensively demonstrates not all new cars are clean even today and as the car ages the emissions will significantly worsen. Unless additional action is taken, our toxic urban air will persist. There remains significant potential to reduce emissions from combustion engines but this will require much stricter emission standards covering more pollutants, more realistic tests and a much more robust enforcement system throughout the vehicles’ life. However, this report also shows that whilst ICE emissions can be lowered further, ICE vehicles will continue to emit toxic exhaust which will continue to adversely affect our health. Engined cars will also continue to emit carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, the transition to zero emission mobility will require a shift to zero emission technology and electromobility.