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The European Diesel dilemma



Connector's Strategic Partner & Director of the Auto Think Tank of the IE Business School in Madrid, Jose-Luis Criado, shares his views on the talk of the town : diesel versus petrol. First a quick reminder :

  • Only about 20% of the world’s car production are diesel and the vast majority of them are manufactured and sold in Europe

  • The popularity of the Diesel engine has been decreasing for a couple of years already. The Volkswagen scandal in 2015, aka "dieselgate", was an accelerator, not a trigger, but it serves to marking a chronological moment

  • In 2017, Italy was the only one of the five main EU markets (DE, FR, IT, UK & ES) where Diesel registrations remained above 50% of the total number of registrations

  • Diesel still represents 70% of the EU fleet sales, but is decreasing

The European dilemma

Diesel engines produce less CO2 emissions, but more NOx particles than petrol engines. We already know that CO2 emissions impact our climate, regardless of the location of the emission; in other words, less emissions is always better.

The situation for NOx and NO2 is different. Particle emissions harm humans directly once a certain concentration in the air is reached. It's therefore not surprising that the EU has regulated particle emissions and has put in place penalties when member states are exceeding the maximum emissions.

On the other hand, the EU wants to achieve an average of CO2 95 g/km for all cars sold in the EU market by 2021; the responsibility of reaching these objectives lays with the OEM's. If they don't reach this target, the EU will apply substantial fines.

Until recently, manufacturers were on track to this target, but as the balance of diesel and petrol cars changes in favour of petrol, achieving this target will become much more difficult.

So, in fact, manufacturers in Europe, prefer to sell more Diesel to avoid fines, while cities are

punishing Diesel engines to reduce NOx and avoid fines.

Reality check : Diesel is still the best option from a TCO point of view

Most people agree that the long term solution is electric or other alternative form of clean

power-trains. But besides political day dreaming, significant penetration of clean cars in the

European car park will take a long time. The EU has around 300 million cars on its roads and the annual registration rate is about 18 million. Just to illustrate the situation, in the impossible hypothesis that from tomorrow onward, 25% of all registrations would use alternative fuels, it would take 33

years to replace half the EU car park. So, for the present generation of people and companies,

a very important discussion is what do we do in between and how we manage the transition.

From a TCO point of view, still no power-train can compete with a diesel engine, and when the vehicle is a real working tool with high mileage usage, even less so.

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