The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has launched a
campaign to publicize the latest range of super-clean Euro 6 diesels.
This is to counter growing anti-diesel rhetoric in recent months,
something the car industry body describes as “misguided”.
All new-to-market diesel cars meet Euro 6 emissions standards, and every single diesel car on sale will have to meet them by law from 1 September 2015.
Has the recent demonstration of diesel been fair?The SMMT’s pro-diesel campaign, backed by CEOs from BMW UK, Ford of Britain, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen, has been launched to “challenge the increasing demonetization of diesel”.
The organization has found that almost 9 in 10 UK adults are unaware of Euro 6 emissions standards – but over half blamed cars and commercial vehicles as the biggest cause of air pollution in the UK. This is incorrect, said the SMMT: power stations are the country’s biggest polluter, but less than 1 in 5 UK adults actually know that.
It would take 42 million Euro 6 diesel cars – four times the number of diesel cars on the road – to emit the same amount of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollutants as one coal-fired power station; there are currently 15 coal-fired power stations in the UK.
But exactly what is a Euro 6 diesel?In brief, it is a car that meets super-strict emissions regulations that came into force in September 2014.
The outgoing exhaust emissions standard is called Euro 5, which became mandatory in 2011 for the sale of all new cars. Euro 6 standards are the next progression of this, and all new cars sold from 1 September 2015 must meet them.
There are already thousands of Euro 6-compliant cars in use on British roads; from September, every new car from the 2.3 million sold in Britain each year will become compliant – and as diesel accounts for around half the new car market, the environmental benefits are set to spread rapidly.
Why are Euro 6 diesels such a step on?Meeting Euro 6 emissions regulations is, with a few exceptions, relatively straightforward for petrol engines. For diesel cars though, it is much more challenging.
Euro 5 regulations clamped down on exhaust particulates, which mean many new diesel models are fitted with standard exhaust particulate filters (particulates is less of an issue for petrol cars). This time, Euro 6 regulations are targeting a reduction in NOx, because they are a significant greenhouse gas and air pollutant.
Indeed, the greenhouse gas effect of nitrogen oxides itself is hundreds of times greater than carbon dioxide: it is the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gas global warming.
The cut is large: a Euro 6 diesel car must emit more than 50 per cent less nitrogen oxides than a Euro 5 diesel. The cap is 80 mg/km, compared to a 180 mg/km allowance for Euro 5 diesels. The reduction from Euro 4 to Euro 5 was 20 per cent, showing how severe the reduction demanded by Euro 6 is.
Back in 2000, the nitrogen oxides limit was 500 mg/km, illustrating how large the reduction has been.
Local air pollution is also being tackled by Euro 6 standards with a cap on emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from diesel cars. These are limited to 170 mg/km, compared to 230mg/km with the current Euro 5 regulations.
This is why Euro 6 regulations are so significant. Diesel engines naturally produce higher levels of nitrogen oxides than petrol cars. Euro 5 was a daunting target for diesel engines to meet, but Euro 6 is perhaps even more challenging.
To meet them, car manufacturers are having to invest in yet more new diesel engine filtration technology to clean up exhaust emissions. One example of this is Selective Catalytic Reduction, which stores emissions and then ‘selectively’ heats up to regenerate and neutralise the emissions. Another alternative is a fuel-borne urea solution (commonly known as ‘AdBlue’) which breaks down emissions in the exhaust.
Both ‘NOx filter’ solutions are costly. Diesel cars are already more expensive than comparable petrol models because of the costly exhaust after-treatment they require, and this will add to the price premium.
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Euro 6 emissions compliance will increasingly become a selling point over the next year or so, as the Euro 6 regulations become mandatory. What is not yet fully clear is how much it may add to the list price of diesel cars. The challenge for car manufacturers right now is to ensure it is kept as manageable as possible.
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Diesel engines are generally more efficient than their petrol equivalent, though the gap is closing. The selection of diesel vehicles by an increasing proportion of new car buyers in recent years has made a significant contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and has also reduced fuel bills for their drivers.
"There is evidence that the previous generation of diesel emission standards (Euro 4 and 5) that have applied to new vehicles purchased since 2006 have not delivered all of the reduction in emissions of nitrogen dioxide and have not been as great as forecast because the internationally agreed tests that the vehicles have to pass have not adequately reflected real world driving.
"These testing procedures are being addressed by the international standards community and there are no reasons to believe that the reductions in oxides of nitrogen associated with the new Euro 6 standard for diesel vehicles, which will apply to all new diesel vehicles from this September, will not be delivered.
“However, it would be wrong to penalize motorists retrospectively for choosing a diesel vehicle when they believed it to be the best choice from an environmental perspective because of its low carbon dioxide emissions. Motorists should therefore continue to select the vehicle type that best fits with their needs.