Automakers in Europe are calling for long-term clarity on legislation that affects diesels after some governments started to discourage buyers from purchasing vehicles that use the fuel because of air pollution concerns.
“The European industry has invested massive amounts of money to make [cleaner] Euro 6 diesels a reality. Now we start hearing calls to reduce or phase out diesel. This is unrealistic. This industry needs a longer-term strategy,” Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, told Automotive News Europe.
Diesel-powered vehicles – which accounted for just over half of all new-car sales in Europe last year – are popular because fuel consumption is roughly 15 percent to 20 percent better than equivalent gasoline powertrains. In addition, the fuel is less expensive in many European countries because it is less taxed. That is about to change as France will gradually align taxes on diesel and gasoline to encourage people to give up their diesel-powered vehicles. French Energy Minister Segolene Royal says France will move away from diesel to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which cause smog. “Air pollution is a major public health issue,” she said. “Sixty percent of the French population breathes air that isn’t healthy.”
Starting this month, the French government also will pay a bonus of as much as 10,000 euros (about $10,780) to consumers who buy an electric car to replace an old diesel vehicle. Meanwhile, the central London borough of Islington has started to charge residents with diesel cars more to park outside their homes than those with gasoline cars.
Automakers argue that Euro 6 emissions standards that apply to new model cars that go on sale starting in September will make diesel emissions a non-issue. “The level of removal of pollutants in Euro 6 is phenomenal,” FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the Geneva auto show last month. The amount of NOx produced by new diesel cars sold in Europe has declined 84 percent to .08 grams per kilometer since 2001, according to the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders.
Automakers are concerned about the anti-diesel sentiment because they say that the powertrain is crucial to helping them comply with the EU’s requirement that CO2 emissions from the passenger vehicle fleet drop to 95g/km starting in 2020 from about 123g/km last year. “With no diesel there will not be 95 grams in 2020,” PSA/Peugeot-Citroen CEO Carlos Tavares told Automotive News Europe. “If we are really sincere about fixing the global warming issue, why are we putting the focus on destroying the mass-market’s most efficient tool?” Ghosn also called for a clearer, long-term roadmap to allow automakers to reduce their diesel dependence.
Automakers also are unhappy that future legislation over emissions on diesel and gasoline engines is not clear. The key change is the planned shift to a more real-world representative test cycle called the World Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) that would replace the current New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test. This is expected to be introduced before 2020, but nothing has been agreed. In addition the so-called Euro 6.2 amendment that sets even tougher emissions goals is set to take effect in 2018 and is scheduled to include an on-road test for tailpipe pollutants. Preliminary tests show this real driving emissions (RDE) segment could prove tough for Euro 6 diesels. “The 2018 regulations are far from clear, particularly around particulates, real driving emissions and conformity factors. There is huge uncertainty,” said Andrew Fraser, manager of gasoline powertrain calibration at Ford of Europe.