June 25, 2018

Diesel Debate Gets More Complex

A Fascinating Picture Is Emerging In The Debate On The Future Of Diesel Fuelled Vehicles

The huge drop in the volume of diesel car registrations this year mirrors the findings from CLM’s own research*, in which just over 67% of drivers stated that they were unlikely to choose a diesel as their next car.

However, the announcement of new engine technologies that dramatically reduce harmful diesel engine emissions, the legacy of two decades of massive growth in the volume of diesel cars on the UK’s roads, and its continuing importance in the LCV market, mean that reports of the fuel’s imminent death may be premature.

Bosch dramatically cuts diesel NOx emissions

Engine parts manufacturer Bosch, claims it has achieved a breakthrough in diesel technology by dramatically cutting emissions of NOx – the pollutant that has set so many alarm bells ringing throughout European capitals.

Bosch says that in RDE (Real Driving Emissions) testing it has carried out, emissions from vehicles equipped with its new diesel technology are not only significantly below current limits, but also those scheduled to come into force from 2020.

Since 2017, European legislation has required that new passenger car models are tested, according to a mix of urban, extra-urban, and motorway cycles within the new emission testing regime called the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).

As part of that, the testing of cars on real roads under realistic driving conditions, so-called RED testing, measures what a car delivers in terms of pollutant emissions, such as NOx, while being driven on the road.

As a result, under the new testing regime, new cars should emit no more than 168 milligrams of NOx per kilometre, and from 2020, this limit will be cut to 120mg.

However, Bosch engineers claim that under test conditions, vehicles equipped with its new diesel technology achieved as little as 13mg of NOx in standard legally-compliant RDE cycles.

That is approximately one-tenth of the EU limit that will apply after 2020. And even when driving in particularly challenging urban conditions, where test parameters are well in excess of legal requirements, the average emissions of the Bosch test vehicles, it says, are as low as 40mg/km.

co2 emissions increase as diesel sales deline

Bosch says life still in diesel

At the company’s annual press conference in Germany, Bosch CEO, Dr Volkmar Denner, told journalists: “There’s a future for diesel. We want to put a stop, once and for all, to the debate about the demise of diesel technology.”

Bosch claims a combination of advanced fuel-injection technology, a newly developed air management system, and intelligent temperature management has made such low readings possible.

The reduction in NOx has been achieved by refining existing technologies, removing the need for new components and without adding to vehicle costs.

Bosch firmly believes that the diesel engine will continue to play an important role in the options for future mobility – at least until electro-mobility breaks through to the mass market.

The new target for Bosch engineers is the development of a new generation of diesel and petrol engines that produce no significant particulates or NOx emissions.

Diesel numbers growing on UK roads

You may be forgiven, considering the recent adverse publicity, for thinking that there are now fewer diesel cars on our roads than ever before. In fact, the reverse is true.

New figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) reveal that the number of diesel cars licensed in Great Britain stood at 12.4 million at the end of 2017 – a 3.3% increase from the previous year and a new record.

The current levels are almost double the 6.6 million diesel cars on our roads a decade ago. And In 1997, the number of diesel cars in Great Britain was just 2.4 million.

The government data also shows that of 31.2 million cars, also a record number, in the country at the end of last year, some 18.3 million were petrol powered, 414,000 were hybrid electric and 45,000 were pure electric.

What's happening in the alternative fuel vehicle space

At the same time, the number of vans, almost all of which are powered by diesel, is also at a new record of 3.9 million, illustrating just how entrenched diesel vehicles are in our society.

The latest figures suggest that even if the dramatic drop in sales of new diesel cars continues, it will take several years before the size of the overall diesel fleet is significantly dented.

The new figures also show that the average age of cars in Britain now stands at 8.1 years. This is up from 8.0 years in 2016 and 6.8 years a decade ago.

Diesel fuel usage increases

However, it not only is the number of diesel vehicles on the road that are at record levels – so is the amount of diesel fuel being sold.

In 2017, 30.4 billion litres of diesel was used in the UK, up from 30.1 billion litres in 2016.

At the same time the amount of petrol being sold dropped slightly from 17.1 billion litres in 2016 to 16.8 billion litres in 2017. Total fuel consumption remained constant at 47.2 billion litres.

All of which leads to the obvious conclusion that the highest percentage of miles driven in this country are diesel rather than petrol powered, and that more people travel more miles using diesel than any other power source. That means that the bulk of longer journeys, and typically business miles, in the UK are diesel powered.

Diesel RVs holding up

Despite the anti-diesel propaganda, diesel resale values are holding up, say the experts, and diesel RVs are expected to remain stable during 2018.

While diesel new car registrations fell by 17% in 2017, and were more than 20% lower year-on-year for the first two months of 2018, used diesel car sales have been more resilient, with no signs of falling demand for either Euro 6 or older Euro 5 models.

Market analysts have reported sharp contrast in the fortunes of diesel cars at auction compared with those in the new car market.

Cap HPI reported that diesel cars were performing in line with expectations, while petrol cars had been appreciating slightly, particularly small cars.

CAP believes that for certain uses, such as high motorway mileage and people driving 15,000-20,000 miles a year, diesel still has a role, particularly in executive cars and upper-medium cars.

And Glass’s also reported that the price performance of diesel cars had not been significantly impacted by the adverse publicity and remarked that the current crop of diesel cars was cleaner than ever.

Glass’s also pointed out that used diesel cars with CO2 emissions up to 100g/km and registered before April 2017, were not liable for vehicle excise duty (VED).

The experts also expect that the current decline in new diesel sales will also help to ensure residual values remain strong for some time to come as fewer ex-fleet models will be returning to the market in three years’ time. If demand remains strong, this supply shortage could strengthen used prices.

* CLM interviewed 300 motorists during the period October 2017 to April 2018 on their knowledge of Alternative Fuel Vehicles and their attitudes towards conventional vehicles.

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