Diesel, once hailed as more efficient and less polluting than petrol, may be on the way out. While the VW saga drew attention to diesel emissions, there are signs this fuel is losing favour.
Authorities can see the polluting effect of diesel.
By 2025, nobody will be allowed to drive a diesel car in Madrid, Athens, Paris or Mexico City. Other cities are bound to follow by banning them. Paris has gone further as all vehicles (not just diesel) must carry clean-air stickers. This means, when pollution is high, authorities can ban high polluters.
London will later this year introduce a toxicity charge, or T-charge, of 10 pounds for certain polluting engines including petrol and diesel. This is on top of the 11.50 pounds congestion charge.
Currently a huge 50% of car sales in Europe are diesel. Around 400,000 people die in Europe each year because of air pollution. In fact, two of the main sources are diesel-powered cars and trucks.
In Australia diesel was used in farm vehicles and heavy machinery only. Then Australians started to buy European diesel cars and, because petrol was more expensive, they bought cheaper fuel. Now the balance has shifted. Buyers see little difference between the price of petrol and diesel and Australians are losing interest in diesel passenger cars.
The last time sales of diesel passenger cars rose was September 2012. Since then, sales have plummeted. Sales even halved over the 2 years until August 2016.
While Australians are still buying medium diesel SUVs, relatively few of these are non-fleet sales. Diesel is appealing to fleets because of its higher energy density. This allows vehicles to travel further on the same volume.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says Australians still want diesel-powered light commercials, like Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger. It claims this is because they are useful for work during the week but sophisticated and comfortable enough for the weekend.
However, one commentator says diesel owners also have to deal with sticky fuel bowsers, noisy idling and extra vibration, compared to similar petrol models.
A spokesperson at Renault said the outlook for diesel investment had “dimmed”. He said “tougher standards and testing methods” would eventually force diesel “out of the market”. While Australia has only just adopted Euro 5 emission standards for its vehicles, more stringent Euro 6 standards are on the way.
There are certainly other alternatives to diesel available, such as hybrid, electric and even hydrogen-powered vehicles.
See our blog, Do Australians care about car emissions?. The real challenge will be finding viable alternatives for diesel-powered trucks.