This summer, Americans vacationing in Europe might face some unexpected choices at the rental car counter: manual or automatic? Petrol (gasoline) or diesel? Most Americans aren’t schooled in manual transmissions, aren’t that familiar with diesel and many may not even be sure that petrol is really gasoline. Some might recall a news story on “something about diesel cars in Europe.” What’s a vacationer to do?
Take note that diesel is in the hot seat in Europe. After over a decade of rising to more than 50 percent market penetration and helping Europe achieve world leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport, governments in Europe are sending a clear message demanding cleaner air in a way they have not before. And even though there are many emissions sources that contribute to air pollution, diesel is at the center of this debate.
The debate includes diesel car owners as both victims of scandals and villains for their choices or defense of diesel technology. Consumers do need to be able to trust the technology that they invest in, and they also need to have choices in the kinds of technology best suited for their needs.
Manufacturers are on the receiving end of substantial blame and criticism, and are taking unprecedented steps to voluntarily recall vehicles, upgrade software performance and improve vehicle emissions performance. It’s a start, and the proof will be in the ongoing scrutiny and testing, but for some it will never be enough.
Fueled by distrust from the massive VW global emissions cheating scandal, government’s new emphasis on vehicle emissions certification testing and real driving emissions performance aims to right the wrongs of the past. European courts are going further enabling or in some cases demanding that member states and cities take broader action to curb air pollution. Selective bans on older diesel cars, as Hamburg, Germany has implemented, are likely more symbolic gesture than air scrubber, unless you are a diesel driver. But in the haste to take action on diesel, government’s policy choices sometimes seem like they are without regard for the full range of practical and pocketbook consequences.
What should governments really be saying and doing about diesel?
Demand that diesel cars be as low in emissions as they are efficient Demand that the emissions from all cars regardless of fuel type be low in the certification test lab and the real world. This is reasonable, appropriate and completely possible, and is the foundation for the future.
European governments should not disrespect, demean or discourage the idea of personal transportation choice. It may be the Union, (EU) but it is the antithesis of a one-size fits all ideology, and that includes what kind of fuel to use or car to drive. Markets, manufacturers and consumers are best suited to make those decisions.
Taken together, bans, restrictions and other punitive measures on diesel drivers operating in city areas, serves well to confuse consumers, as does the growing number of new car emissions rating systems. What or who is a consumer to believe? Today a ban on older diesel cars; which fuel or technology type will be the subject tomorrow? My car passes on one website but not another?
Mobility is rapidly changing; no question about it – and there are already more choices today than ever before on not just which fuel type of car to drive, but whether even to have a car or just rely on a mobility service. Exciting times, but times that also bring less certainty and greater risk.
Diesel technology was born in Europe and has been established and refined for well over 100 years. Its continuous improvement and unmatched combination of capabilities today are why it is the technology of choice for global transport today. And tomorrow? When using advanced renewable biodiesel fuels, consider that a new generation diesel engine not running on diesel fuel at all can deliver a very competitive greenhouse gas emissions performance comparable to EVs in some states, depending on the grid power mix.
Even with tremendous advancements in other fuels, diesel still offers unique advantages like efficiency and economical operation, reliability, more kilometers/liter and further driving on a single tank, along with easy access to refueling throughout all of Europe. The newest generations of diesel cars and SUVs will be doing all of that with near-zero emissions and very low CO2.
As a choice for passenger vehicles diesel is confronting new realities of a growing field of competitive fuels and other efficient technologies, and a desire for new environmental performance. But competition is good, which is why diesel is still a great choice – especially for larger vehicles traveling more miles, just like touring Europe on vacation.