Alan Bradley is one half of The Motoring Podcast. His first column for Motoring Research tackles the tricky issue of banning diesels in city centres.
The idea of starting a new column the week of the Geneva Motor Show would fill most motoring news commentators with fear. The weeks before Geneva are traditionally a fallow period, a time of meandering sentences and, for us podcasters, speaking slowly.
This year, however, it’s the German Federal Administrative Court that has helped us fill minutes and column inches by granting the cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf the right to prohibit older, more polluting vehicles from entering at certain times. ‘Older, higher polluting’ is read as ‘diesel’ by many of us, and that’s how it’s intended. According to the court, restricting older vehicles in specified areas of the cities is “generally permissible” as a method of countering localised pollution.
As the court ruling stands, these limitations apply to pre-Euro 5 diesel vehicles, a regulatory tier that can into force in September 2009. These, again according to the ruling, have to be permitted “free passage” until Euro 5 is 10 years old, when the prohibited zones will be no doubt be revised to include newer models in a quest to reverse the increasing nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels in city centres.
Diesel sales down
Stories like this, coming as they do off the back of the Volkswagen-triggered ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, continue to confuse and deter new car buyers in the UK and across Europe. Month after month, we discuss the continued decline in diesel registrations on The Motoring Podcast News Show and the buyer uncertainty over regulation and taxation that’s causing it. As an example, for January, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported 25.6% fewer diesel-powered cars registered compared with 2017.
This change brings its challenges. While cities have their NOx levels measured and monitored, countries are more interested in their overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Indeed, the German government opposes the court’s decision. As petrol engines emit less NOx but more CO2 than their well-maintained diesel equivalents, we can already see an increase in the average CO2 emissions of newly-registered UK cars.
So, I hear you cry, what’s the answer to this? Well, as is ever the case, a complex problem has many potential complex solutions. Electricity is a viable alternative, of course, but while tailpipe emissions are zero, its cleanliness depends on how it’s generated. There’s also hydrogen, an energy source that combines the benefits of electric vehicles with the fast filling of conventional fuels, but lacks a consistent infrastructure.
Leaning towards LPG
This thinking leads me towards LPG: a forgotten fuel that’s locally available across the UK and that can power existing internal combustion engines with minimal modification. Could the time be right for an LPG hybrid? It’s highly unlikely that’s in any manufacturer’s product mix, but it will be interesting to see and hear the car manufacturers, particularly the German brands, explain how they see solutions to this complex issue. We’ll find out at Geneva.
- Listen to The Motoring Podcast
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