A decade from now diesel is going to look like a blip, the result of some collective European hysteria and – undoubtedly – the wrong answer to the question it was intended to solve. Europe’s love affair with oil-garglers started after the fuel crisis in the 1970s, but they were a minority taste until as recently as 20 years ago (see panel).
The dash to diesel was triggered by the perceived need to reduce CO2 emissions after the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997. Or, to be more precise, the short-sighted decision by Europe’s legislators to prioritize cutting carbon over the need to reduce harmful local pollutants.
As diesel produces less CO2 than petrol it got the nod, despite making magnitudes more of NOX and seen tougher emissions standards, forcing catalysts and exhaust after-treatments, all of which add cost – with the as-yet undisclosed Euro 7 standard certain to be much harder. But it’s actually more ambitious CO2 reduction standards that have really hammered diesel; even ultra-frugal modern oil burners won’t be able to meet the requirement for every manufacturer selling in Europe to meet a ‘fleet average’ of 95g/km of CO2 – 4.1L/100km on petrol or 3.6L/100km on diesel – by 2021.
To hit those numbers while being able to sell bigger and faster cars – the ones that make larger profits – manufacturers are going to switch to hybrid assistance and pure EVs en masse, and the investment decisions to do so were made years ago. Change is coming, both quickly and dramatically. At a recent press event in Sweden, Volvo Cars CEO Hakkan Samuelsson admitted it’s possible that Volvo won’t be making any compression-ignition derivatives within a decade, its new three-cylinder petrol hybrid claimed to be both cheaper and more frugal than its four-cylinder diesel.
Ironically, given diesel’s utilitarian origins in trucks and taxis, the last cars to continue to use it will be larger and more expensive cancer-causing particulates. Buyers were steered towards oilers through subsidies, higher petrol prices and, in many European countries, CO2 taxation that made it massively expensive to own a bigger-engined petrol car. Even after a slight dip, half the cars sold in Europe are still diesels.
But, as a Nobel laureate once sang, the times they are a’ changin’. Filthy air in towns and cities has ones, against which the extra cost of increased emissions control is more easily offset, and which benefit most from the low-down torque.
Audi admits that it wouldn’t have been able to make the SQ7 with a petrol engine, the 900Nm of low-down torque being crucial to both its driving and the CO2 numbers allowing riving character rs Europeans to buy it. But legislators are moving against with many European to introduce zero-emissions zones that will ban cleanest diesels.
Oilers are sold around the world, but it’s European demand that drives much all development.
Without that, diesel’s are definitely numbered. this flank too, n cities set missions even the ound uropean pretty ent. l’s days bered.
The fuel crisis of the 1970s is often cited as the start of Europe’s diesel revolution, but demand ramped up very slowly – from four percent of sales in 1975 to 17 percent in 1992. Aggressive CO2 reduction targets triggered the race for diesel in the noughties. The peak year was 2011 when 56.1 percent of sales in the EU were diesel. The highest national peak was in France in 2008, when 77.3 percent of cars were oilers. Automotive analysts Alixpartners forecast earlier this year that diesel will have dropped to 9 percent by 2030.
Based on conversations with senior execs, even that number sounds too high.