Diesel car owners may feel a little under siege of late, given the sudden emphasis on diesel cars being the cause of much of the pollution in our towns and cities, along with plans to impose toxicity charge zones across the country.

However, are diesel cars really the main culprits, or are other sources of pollution with far greater impact being ignored? We may be about to witness a fightback against politicians and experts about diesel and the extent of the pollution it generates.


The Diesel Fightback Begins


Under siege

According to the Managing Director of Jaguar Land Rover, Jeremy Hicks, motorists are being ‘frightened off diesel cars’ by a combination of the threat of council bans, extra charges and the ‘false impressions’ that are demonising diesel cars. He points out that other causes, ranging from buses and trucks to log-burning stoves, are largely being ignored.

Hicks’ comments follow statistics from the London Assembly Environment Committee that seem to agree with him. Figures show that diesel cars emit less nitrogen oxide (NOx) than gas central heating systems and buses in the areas suffering the worst congestion around the capital.

Costing drivers money

FairFuelUK, a motorist campaign group, said that a combination of opportunistic politicians and environmentalists have used factually incorrect information about diesel cars to create a panic. The result of this looks set to be a surcharge on people who own diesels.

This is costing drivers money, with some estimates putting the figure at £35 billion in lost vehicle value. This is all due to figures that some consider to be questionable. The FairFuelUK report added that basing legislative decisions on this misinformation risks a ‘negligible improvement on urban air quality.’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan received personal criticism in the report. He looks set to announce tougher proposals for diesel cars around the capital this week. However, the report points out that the committee that provides the mayor with his information has not considered other sources of emissions in its decisions. Or is it simply that the mayor is unwilling to tackle gas central heating or buses as greater sources of NOx emissions because he can’t tax them?

NOx output

FairFuelUK’s analysis shows that diesel cars are responsible for 11% of the NOx pollution in London, while gas central heating contributes 16% and the capital’s buses a similar amount. Diesel plants and machinery are responsible for around 14% of the emissions, while other sources include HGVs (12%), rail (8%), petrol cars (7%) and diesel vans (5%).

Jaguar Land Rover’s Jeremy Hicks, attending an industry summit in London, said that critics were identifying the ‘wrong villains’ by criticising modern, clean diesel cars and completely ignoring pollution from buses, trucks and taxis. Jaguar Land Rover’s diesel vehicles are comparable with petrol ones in terms of the nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and particles that they emit. Hicks added that there is an impression that city air quality will be improved simply by banning diesel cars.

The NOx problem

Since the Volkswagen debacle highlighted possible emissions problems with diesel cars, there has been a great deal of focus on the NOx problem and on air quality in general. The NHS says that urban air quality is responsible for 40,000 early deaths each year, with NOx emissions being one of the main causes of the problem.

Nick Molden, CEO and founder of Emissions Analytics, which tests car emissions in real-world situations, has said that in their research, several diesel cars meet and even exceed the Euro 6 emissions regulations. However, there are some vehicles that exceed NOx emissions levels by as much as twenty times.

Latest additions to the EQUA Air Quality (Aq) Index

Make Model Engine size (Litres) EQUA Aq Index
BMW 5 Series 2.0 A
Mercedes-Benz E-Class 2.0 A
Mercedes-Benz V-Class 2.1 A
Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2.1 A
BMW 7 Series 3.0 A
BMW 3 Series 2.0 B
Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 B
Mini Countryman 2.0 C
Audi A4 2.0 C
Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class 2.1 D
BMW X1 2.0 D
Suzuki Vitara 1.6 E
Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.1 E
Peugeot 308 2.0 E
Ford Focus 2.0 E
Maserati Quattroporte 3.0 E
Mazda 6 2.2 E
Renault Kadjar 1.6 E
Land Rover Discovery 2.0 E
Kia Rio 1.1 G
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 1.5 G


It’s not only older diesel vehicles that fall into this “very high polluting” bracket and that could be covered by a diesel scrappage scheme. There are also diesel vehicles under nine years old where drivers have removed the diesel particle filters – these can emit 20-40 times more NOx that the Euro 6 standards.

Changing diesel’s perception

Car manufacturers and campaigners are working hard to repair the damage caused to diesel’s reputation by the Volkswagen scandal. However, with politicians and others focusing their efforts on diesel cars as the cause for poor air quality problems, this may be a difficult fight.

The government could go a long way to addressing the problems with a moratorium on the sources of NOx emissions (rather than just cars), a scrappage scheme to remove diesel cars 15 years or older, and legislation making it illegal to remove diesel particle filters from cars less than nine years old. It seems, however, that the only way it can think to tackle the issue is by taxing diesel drivers for driving.


Do you think motorists are being frightened off diesel cars? Why do you think diesel cars are being demonised when the evidence proves that 89% of NOx is created by other sources? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo credit: “A Petrol Station” by Frank is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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