Dude, where’s my diesel?


To some the soothing chug of a diesel engine is something nice, a gentle therapeutic rumble. To others it’s dull boring burring that’s better suited to the field or canal than the motorway.

Where you come down on the Great Diesel Divide will influence how you react to the news that diesel could be on the way out.

While many heralded diesel cars as the way forwards an efficient automotive tomorrow, public opinion has soured in recent years as petrol combustion engines leaped.

Yes, the writing’s not quite on the wall for diesel but its future looks substantially less secure than it did a few years ago.

In this blog we’re going to concentrate on two big monkeys perched on the back of the diesel industry: pollution and production.


Heavy Clouds of Smog

The main problem with diesel vehicles is the rate at which they spew pollutants from their exhaust pipe. Unlike petrol engines, diesel engines create high levels of nitrogen oxides and dioxides, jointly dubbed NOx.

Nitrogen dioxide is a particularly nasty customer and recent studies have showed that it can exacerbate a huge range of health conditions. It’ll not come as comforting news then to hear that various European cities have NO2 levels sitting at twice the legal maximum.

And it’s not just the nitrogen dioxide you should be worried about either. Particulate matter, essentially teeny tiny bits of particles and liquid droplets, are also created in diesel engines.

As a quick aside, particulate matter should be stopped by super effective filters fitted to all modern diesel cars but many drivers feel the need to remove them.

Many believe the saving grace of the diesel engine to be its CO2 production, which sits substantially lower than a petrol equivalent. Diesel engines burn less fuel to travel the same distance and that produced less CO2.

Sadly, it’s not that clean cut.

Diesel-powered vehicles tend to be heavier than their petrol equivalent and that wipes out any benefit from improved diesel efficiency. On average, they do emit less CO2 but it’s only a fractional reduction.

Ultimately, this all means diesel cars fall far short of the EU emission guidelines.

A study published by green transport think-tank Transport & Environment suggested that nine in every ten new diesel cars fell short of the limit. The Audi A8 was singled out for particular criticism with emissions 22 times more than the limit.

While car makers claim they are working their hands to the bone in the name of efficiency, the real world results are less than enthusing. Governments, both national and international, are doing little to change the status quo either. European regulators are holding discussions with car manufacturers about real world testing but little has been done to push legislation through.


Imported Diesel

The other thorn in diesel’s side is the growing reliance on foreign fuel. Published earlier this week, an alarming report from the RAC Foundation predicted that Britain’s diesel pumps could “run dry” if a growing reliance on foreign fuel wasn’t reversed.

There are currently 11 million diesel cars on British roads, compared with a paltry 1.6 million in 1994. The increase in vehicles has driven a monumental increase in demand, one that the domestic refineries are struggling to cope with.

British drivers currently consume twice as much diesel as our refineries produce and that’s driving increased reliance on on diesel producing nations like Russia and India.

That reliance, says the Foundation’s director, could leave motorists “at the mercy of the global market”.


Uncertain Future

The uncertain future of diesel production, combined with its pollution drawbacks, could cause a radical reduction in diesel-powered cars and its relegation from domestic vehicle sector.

Whether that happens will depend on a lot of things, including future legislation, technological advances and consumer behaviour. One thing’s for certain though, we’ll be right here keeping you abreast of any updates.