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What's so bad about diesel engines

With the market on diesel cars facing some challenging publicity in 2017, David Cox, managing director of Cox Motor Group gives his opinion on what this means for consumers, and what opportunities may lay ahead for diesel drivers.

In 2017 sales of new diesel cars declined by 17% with the reduction blamed on lack of sales due to a reduction in consumer confidence. So, what’s the problem? Why are potential customers shying away from vehicles that have increased so much in their popularity since the 1980's? After all diesel cars have often outsold their petrol counterparts since 2010 in this country and all over Europe.

Well to many, it’s rather baffling. But nevertheless, I shall try and set out some of the facts in an attempt to make sense of it all.

On the 25th of July 2017 the UK government announced plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel engine cars by 2040. Then on the 12th October 2017, Parisian authorities announced plans to banish all diesel and petrol engine cars by 2030.

Earlier on in the year, August 15th to be exact, the German government said that a ban on petrol and diesel engine cars was “the right approach”. However, it set no timeline for the move.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel added that diesel cars would continue to be offered, due to their lower output of carbon dioxide compared to petrol engines. Really? Petrol engines dirtier than diesels? Confusing indeed, but then of course Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan on October 23rd 2017, implemented London’s £10 T-charge for the most polluting petrol and diesel cars.

Philip Hammond

UK government announced plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel engine cars by 2040

Now the sharp eyed amongst you will have noticed that in all the above announcements there is a mention of both petrol and diesel engine vehicles. The reality is that most governments are not willing to separate the 2 because quite frankly they are in confusing different ways pretty much as bad as each other. Diesel engines because they burn the fuel more efficiently emit less Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and Hydrocarbons. But in turn petrol engines produce much less Oxides of Nitrogen thanks to modern catalytic converters.

And that is exactly the problem. Of course, every government wants to improve air quality for its citizens or be seen to be trying to do so, especially just before a general election! However right now there is just not enough evidence to show which is worst. Which is why there is plenty of rhetoric but no real action. Unless that is you class the 2017 autumn budget new diesel tax rate changes as action. The chancellor hiked the first-year road tax from April 1st 2018 on the average new diesel by £20. Yes just £20. The cost of a couple of Big Mac meals and a Strawberry milkshake is hardly going to send fear into the wallets of even the most parsimonious drivers.

So must we consider electric vehicles as a reasonable alternative now then? Well, theoretically yes but in a recent survey published by the Daily Express, 65% of respondents wouldn’t be at all happy to buy an electric car. Major concerns are lack of charging points locally and nationally, uncertainty about battery life time and mileage range. In addition, there seems to an apathy when it comes to buying an electric vehicle due to a wariness over future obsolescence.

I’m not sure how many of you will remember the Betamax/VHS video recorder era, but back in 1975 a Betamax video recorder would set you back the equivalent of almost £6000 in today’s terms. Only a few months later they were becoming practically worthless as VHS began to dominate the market. I still use mine though, although the screen can be a little ‘flickery’ at times and the choice of films is somewhat limited. But you’ve got to get your money’s worth, haven’t you?

In addition, many potential electric car buyers say they are put off by the greenhouse gases emitted in the creation of electricity, with the vast majority of energy for the national grid still made from the burning of fossil fuels. Is it really necessary and appropriate to put more pressure on that already over-stretched resource? What people want to know regarding electric cars is just how clean they really are? An American report from 2016 made it evident that different states in the USA used very different forms of fuel to create electricity and that in turn made running an all-electric car very confusing indeed for someone wanting to reduce their own little carbon footprint. For example, although a Nisan Leaf all electric car produces no greenhouse gases itself, the production of electricity that it feeds on does. The production of electricity creates 300 grams of Carbon Dioxide per mile in Minnesota but only 100 grams per mile in California. Lucky California you think, yes indeed but it’s totally down to the extremely different ways that Power Stations create energy in different parts of the USA. That same report hasn’t been prepared for the UK yet, but watch this space, its coming.

Nisan Leaf all electric car

“Although a Nisan Leaf all electric car produces no greenhouse gases itself, the production of electricity that it feeds on does.”

And by the way, have your electricity bills been reducing recently? I know mine haven’t. In fact, a report by Selecta tells us that electricity now costs a staggering 62.6% more than in 2006. 62.6%, that’s daylight robbery isn’t it? By comparison the pump price of diesel has increased just over 16% in the last decade and the RAC tell us that the average diesel engine car does 35% more MPG than 10 years ago. Now I know that I absolutely have no choice in the use of electricity in my home. If the thought of lighting all those candles isn’t bad enough, the very mention of giving up SKY TV could easily flip my household into a panic driven frenzy that I just might not survive. But I have a choice in what powers my car and quite frankly I’m not sure I want to risk a 62.6% increase in my running costs!

So, there you have it, it’s all rather confusing isn’t it? But worry not because the silver lining to this particular cloud is extremely shiny. Because many car buyers have turned their back on diesels in 2017, it has forced the manufacturers to offer some exceptional deals to boost sales back to previous levels. With most new car sales being purchased on a PCP type deal with a guaranteed future value agreed, it takes away most concerns. Then I guess in 3 years’ time when most of these agreements end, there’ll be a lot more water under the bridge and (hopefully) more understanding of what the future of motoring looks like. Which by the way could feasibly have a distinctively hydrogen powered look to it? (Opening up the Betamax/VHS issue again, did I mention my Betamax player is actually for sale?)

David Cox Managing director Cox Motor Group

David Cox - Managing director - Cox Motor Group

However, until then you could be driving a brand-new Honda CR-V 1.6 DTEC delivering 84.34 Miles per gallon (in a recent real-life MPG Marathon test), emitting only 115 grams of Carbon Dioxide per kilometre. Oh, and you won’t be fretting looking for a recharging station with a range of over 800 miles. The Black Edition with 0% APR is now available from £2,499 deposit and £389 per month*.

But be quick because they won’t be this cheap for this long, and you can’t afford to hang on until 2040 when cars will be powered by banana skins and cow dung!

*Quotation based on 37 Month PCP at 0% APR, on 6,000 miles per annum. Personalised quotes are available, please contact your nearest dealer.

Posted by David Cox
5th Feb 2018

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