Stop ‘demonising diesel’, UK motor industry warns

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders argues new diesel technology has “vital” contribution in cleaning up UK air quality

The UK motor industry has today (February 11) called on the government and local authorities to help encourage “widespread adoption” of the latest diesel technology in order to boost air quality, warning that it is “time to stop demonising diesel”.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), diesel “is not a dirty word” and modern diesel technology can in fact play a “vital role” in reducing air pollution emissions across UK towns and cities.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive

There are 4.4 million commercial vehicles and buses in the UK, of which 99% are diesel. In 2014, 61 billion miles were driven by such vehicles and buses carried commuters on 5.2 billion journeys.

Diesel vehicles were originally incentivised by previous UK governments as they produced lower carbon emissions. However, studies have increasingly shown that these vehicles also make a bigger contribution to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter emissions.

As a result, calls have come from some air quality campaigners for diesel vehicles to be banned, as they will be in Paris from 2020. And, in London recently, both Hackney and Islington borough councils recently agreed to levy additional parking permit charges against diesel vehicles, a policy that SMMT has branded “unfair” (see story).

However, SMMT argues that UK manufacturers have spent ‘billions’ in advanced diesel technology to meet the latest Euro 6 standard, and that these newer vehicles now have filters that capture 99% of soot particulates.

And, commenting ahead of its air quality debate event taking place in London today, SMMT also said that since the start of 2014, less than three quarters of commercial vehicles and only a fifth of buses registered in the UK last year were fitted with Euro 6 compliant technology.

The membership organisation claims a ‘loophole’ currently enables UK bus operators to specify older vehicles for their fleets in order to avoid being fitted with Euro 6 compliant technology. SMMT therefore called on the the government to close this loophole and provide greater support to the uptake of low emission buses


Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Industry shares public concerns about air quality, and is responding by investing billions of pounds in advanced diesel commercial vehicles that are 95% cleaner than their predecessors. However, while modern diesel technology can make a vital contribution to cleaning up the air we all breathe, it cannot do the job on its own.

“The key now is uptake. It’s time to stop demonising diesel, and for all stakeholders to engage on this issue. Government and local councils must work together with industry and operators to encourage widespread adoption of the latest diesel technology that has the potential to make a dramatic improvement to air quality in the UK. We hope today’s debate will mark the start of that dialogue.”

Mr Hawes is set to host the SMMT event taking place in London today – ‘Improving Air Quality: The Commercial Vehicle Contribution’ – which the organisation says it has organised to “showcase the latest low emission technology” and “open the debate” on how transport officials, industry, business and passenger groups can work together to enourage new diesel uptake and boost the UK’s air quality.


The event will also feature presentations from the Minister of State for Transport, John Hayes MP; Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr; and representatives from local transport authorities in London, Manchester and Scotland.

SMMT’s comments aimed at promoting the benefits of modern diesel technology follow the findings of a US academic study published last month, which found no increased risk of lung cancer in rats from diesel vehicles using the latest technology (see story).


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