As we go to press, the furore over VW’s self-inflicted woes is further intensifying, with the firm reporting its first quarterly loss in 15 years – taking a charge that even new boss Matthias Muller concedes can’t cover likely fines and litigation, forecast by some to top £45 billion. For the UK government and the EU, though, the debacle has focused urgent attention not only on VW and its brands, but diesel itself.
And not just the widely criticised emissions-testing regime for diesel cars and vans. Yes, to its credit the EU has hastily agreed far more robust tests for new vehicles from 1 September 2017 – although with four years’ grace for full compliance. Gone will be the so-called Golden vehicle, and real road conditions will be mandatory.
But there’s more. Voices are rising against what’s increasingly seen as the undue popularity of diesel itself. Ironic? Yes, given historic tax incentives. But mounting anxiety over the impact of NOx and PM (particulate matter) emissions on human health is in the driving seat.
To date, the DfT has remained silent on diesel fuel tax rises, instead choosing to encourage uptake of Euro 6, hybrids and misguidedly also EVs, through grants and the creation of instruments such as low emission zones. That’s fine, but there may soon come a time when the transport industry needs to put up or shut up.
As IRTE executive director Ian Chisholm puts it: “Unnecessarily scrapping diesel-powered vehicles ... has its own environmental repercussions.” We need to champion the exposure of disinformation but also be open to engineering innovations that solve the problem.