We recently told you that government ministers were looking for the link between outdated fossil-fuelled vehicles, and super clean, modern vehicles; the link they found was brakes & tyres – the ultimate saviour of all road transport air pollution problems (the electric vehicle) would still be dirty (which of course means taxable).

In that article, I questioned just how many industry qualified engineers were sat on the panel of experts, for it seems that air pollution is the zeitgeist of the modern era, to the detriment of everything else.

This is exactly what happened when the government of the time incentivised us to by diesel; “much cleaner, less CO2, less pollution” – any automotive engineer would have told them that they’re selling a kipper to the public.

Rising CO2 levels

Similarly, it was our very own Jason Lloyd that spoke about the law of unintended consequences all the way back in 2017, in which it had become apparent even then, that CO2 levels were rising again, thanks to the demonisation of diesel fuel, the previously loved answer to all things air-pollution related.

Surely, getting on for almost two years later, lessons have been learned?

The British Vehicle Rental & Leasing Association (BVRLA) have just published their Q1 2019 Quarterly Leasing Survey; the average CO2 emissions for all new leased cars is 118g/km – a rise of 7% since 2017. So that’s a no then.

Further still, it isn’t just lease cars – the whole new car market has spiked at 129g/km for the same period, which is the highest recording of CO2 for just over a decade. It also shows that thanks to the ridiculous taxation (either directly or otherwise), diesel car sales are falling year on year, by around 15%. In 2017, the average values of diesels were down 26%. They’re still nose-diving.

Two problems for every solution

Realistically, there are a number of problems that have led to this situation, the first being a straight choice between an asthmatic 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine or something that can be used (safely) on motorways, lugging loads, carrying a full family … a larger-engined vehicle (petrol of course).

Despite their faults, the nature of diesel engines meant that torque was plentiful, you weren’t needing to wait until you hit ‘valve bounce’ (maxed into the red line) to change gear, and cruising along at motorway speeds was pretty lazy and effortless. To replicate that, you need that larger petrol engine.

Added to that, is the change over to the new WLTP regulations (World harmonised Light vehicle Test Programme), which aims to give a more realistic figure than what we’d come to expect when the manufacturers ruled the roost; CO2 figures were always going to rise because of this.

It’s more than likely the combination of both these factors that sees the CO2 levels spiking at such high numbers – cars are more fuel-efficient than ever, measured like for like, a modern car will always be cleaner than the same car from even just three or four years ago.

Electric vehicles

Until the majority of road transport is electric, we are always going to have an issue surrounding air quality, that’s simple fact. Of course there’s the issue of ever-moving goal posts in the fact that as soon as we get close to meeting one arbitrary limit, it gets changed to something else, and as we’ve seen, the politicians already have their eyes on what could be used next for a little revenue earner.

But no matter how much we clean up our vehicles, it’s never going to solve the issue of air pollution. Electric vehicles are extremely resource-heavy to manufacture, we also need to consider end-of-life plans for recycling, and of course, the elephant in the room is charging … electricity generation doesn’t come free from pollution.

Yes, there’s a movement toward ‘green’ or sustainable energy, but even with our existing grid, we’d struggle to cope with demand if we switched to all-electric, even over a period of time.

The Green Alliance is a British think tank, specialising in eco & environmental issues, they’ve warned that “if no action is taken by 2020, local clusters of the battery powered cars could lead to 1% of Britain suffering unplanned voltage drops, so-called ‘brownouts’, which can damage electronic equipment. It only takes six electric vehicles located close to one other to lead to such voltage drops.”

Other European countries are in the same dilemma.

So what is the answer? Should we impose a limit for pollution now, and stick to it? Or should we keep trying to find other ways of reducing pollution from our vehicles?

What do you think the solution could be? Do you think there will come a time when we’re pollution free? Or, do you think like Bob Dylan: The answer is blowing in the wind. Let us know in the comments.

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