Motor industry’s ‘myth-busting’ diesel campaign criticised

SMMT launches consumer campaign to combat ‘increasing demonisation of diesel cars’ over air pollution

The motor industry today (March 11) launched a national consumer campaign and an accompanying ‘myth-busting’ website aimed at challenging the “increasing demonisation of diesel” over its impact on air quality.

At the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ (SMMT) offices in London this morning, car manufacturers including BMW UK, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen came together to urge policy makers and local authorities to “avoid confusing motorists by penalising one fuel technology over another”.

Mike Hawes (L) and other motor industry figures at the launch of the diesel campaign today (March 11)

Mike Hawes (L) and other motor industry figures at the launch of the diesel campaign today (March 11)

But while SMMT claims that the latest diesel cars are the “cleanest in history”, environmental groups have slammed the campaign, arguing that current diesel emission tests do not reflect real world driving and that diesel cars emit “10 times” more nitrogen oxides (NOx) compared to petrol cars.

It comes after London boroughs such as Islington, Hackney and Kensington & Chelsea recently either brought in or agreed to consider parking restrictions on diesel cars in order to cut air pollution (see story).

In view of this — as well as strict measures recently mooted in France aimed at curtail diesel vehicle use — SMMT fears a backlash against diesel technology could be emerging and has launched a fightback ahead of the General Election in May.

Almost 900,000 diesel engines will be produced in the UK this year, while car manufacturer Ford is also due to begin producing up to 350,000 low emission diesel engines each year at its Dagenham plant from 2016.

Therefore, as well as launching the website and promising to distribute diesel emissions information in leaflets via car makers and dealers, SMMT published the results of a YouGov poll of 1,486 motorists showing that 56% did not believe diesel cars should incur a surcharge, as they do in Islington.

The poll results also found that 87% of these motorists had never heard of Euro 6 emission standards which come into force from September this year for new diesel vehicles.

SMMT said that road transport was responsible for 48% of NOx emissions in London, which is projected to fall to 40% by 2020 with diesel cars contributing 7% of the overall emissions.


Chief executive of SMMT, Mike Hawes, today referred to a “creeping backlash” against diesel technology, and rejected policies aimed at curtailing diesel car use, such as those recommended in the Environmental Audit Committee’s November 2014 air quality report.

As well as rejecting calls for a gradual shift in taxation to rebalance fuel duty and vehicle excise duty, Mr Hawes dismissed diesel scrappage scheme policies, commenting: “We want to make sure that any measures to improve air quality are focused on urban areas, so a scrappage scheme might be a bit of a blunt instrument.”

although he said that no test could accurately reflect the rigours of normal car use.

But while he said it did the industry “no favours” to have a test cycle which was not based on real world driving, he emphasised that new diesel technology “will deliver” on both climate change and air quality.

He added: “At SMMT I do a lot of media interviews, and over the last six months I have not been asked a single question about climate change, so the pendulum is swinging. But we need to make sure we do not lose sight of climate change.”

Also speaking at the campaign launch, Ford of Britain chairman and managing director Mark Ovenden, said that “customer choice and the market should determine the best technologies for meeting CO2 and air quality goals”.

Mr Ovenden said Ford was “committed” to offering petrol, diesel and electrified vehicle options.

He said: “In terms of diesel, it is important that today’s and tomorrow’s advanced diesel powertrains are vastly cleaner than in the past and are approaching parity with petrol engines when it comes to emissions that affect air quality, while at the same time delivering important CO2 benefits.”

‘Dirty diesel’

SMMT’s campaign launch angered environmental campaign groups such as Clean Air in London and environmental lawyers ClientEarth, with the latter’s Alan Andrews stating that the campaign “fails to mention that Euro 6 cars emit average seven times the legal limits on the road”.

In addition, European NGO Transport & Environment slammed the SMMT campaign as “a desperate attempt to wash out diesel cars’ image”, and released its own briefing in response detailing ‘six facts about diesel that the car industry would rather not tell motorists’.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at T&E, said: “Carmakers are trying to greenwash dirty diesel to hide the truth that compared to a petrol car a typical new diesel car on the road emits 10 times more nitrogen oxides. While carmakers claim modern diesels are clean they are pushing to delay and weaken the introduction of new pollution tests. This is because most new diesels can’t reach the limits agreed back in 2007 without fitting new technology.”

“If carmakers want to keep selling diesels they should clean up the exhausts by simply using existing technology. This would reduce the tens of thousands of deaths annually caused by air pollution, which is an invisible killer.”


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