Diesel Comes Under Attack in Europe, UK

Although Americans have been slow to embrace diesel-powered vehicles, they’ve been a mainstay of the European auto industry for years.  Diesel vehicles account for about half of all vehicles sold in Europe due to their smoothness and exceptional fuel economy, and governments across the continent have contributed to the popularity of diesel vehicles, by keeping taxes on the fuel low compared to gasoline.

Today, however, diesel is under attack in Europe.  The French government wants its citizens to trade in their diesel autos for electric cars, and is offering incentives of up to 10,000 euros to those who make the switch.  Paris has a goal of eliminating all diesel powered vehicles by around 2020, and across the channel in London, tougher environmental controls are expected to lead to fewer diesel vehicles.

Diesel proponents are puzzled by the moves, and claim that today’s diesel engines are among the cleanest on the roads. In recent years, European automakers have invested hundreds of millions of euros developing clean diesel technologies, and they fear that governmental pressure could create a backlash that would doom the industry.

Britain’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has launched a public relations counter-offensive it’s calling “Destigmatizing Diesel” aimed at debunking the false claims and misinformation about the technology.

British newsletter “Automotive Industry Data” editor Peter Schmidt says the diesel industry remains strong, despite the recent assault by government officials and environmentalists. According to Schmidt, diesel vehicles accounted for 53.3 percent of all vehicles sold in Western Europe in 2014.

“The widespread exodus from diesel to gasoline cars that was predicted by some learned auto industry forecasts about half a dozen so years ago is still notable for its absence. The way the runes are read today the likelihood is that by the close of this and next year, diesels will still account for around half the recovering West European new car market,” says Schmidt.

He does, however, admit that diesel’s dominance will undoubtedly diminish in the coming years.  Schmidt predicts, “By 2017, European car diesel share might have dropped to 35 percent from 55 percent.” HIS Automotive has predicted that diesel’s European market share will fall to just under 50 percent by 2021.

As for diesel’s future “across the pond”, Schmidt says, “As gas prices gained, Europeans stood a chance of getting a sizable diesel foothold in North America, but the recent collapse of global fuel prices more or less killed the market before it was born.”

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