You might remember when diesel was touted as the fuel of choice to go for when purchasing a new car. But it’s not as clear-cut as all that as the latest news from the capital city shows. With the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wanting a brand new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) introduced, diesel vehicle users might face an extra levy.

It was reported recently in The Times that the mayor plans to lobby the government in a bid to get Vehicle Excise Duty increased for drivers of diesel cars in an attempt to encourage drivers to choose cleaner cars as their vehicles of choice as well as clean up London’s air.

london smog

We already have pretty strict emission controls in place in the UK and Europe, with each upgrade proving less and less tolerant of bad emissions. In a year and a half the Euro 6 standard will come into play. Euro emission standards have seen manufacturers forced over recent years to upgrade engines to meet the increasingly tough controls – with some well-known and popular vehicles biting the dust as a result, like (arguably) the Nissan 200SX. It’s just not always economical to improve old technology.

The problem with diesel is specifically related to how you drive – or more accurately, how the environment you are in allows you to drive. While it is true that diesel does indeed release less CO2 than a petrol engine on paper, this is only true of a smooth running, warmed up engine. The stop-start nature of city driving and shorter distances travelled amounts to diesel being a major pollutant. The slowing down and speeding up and revving of engines simply compounds this.

Of course, anything Boris says makes the news and any plans would be subject to full consultation. Although the idea would likely be to introduce a charge that is similar, or close to, the existing congestion charge.

It could perhaps be reasonably argued that we were all duped into believing that diesel engines were better for the environment than petrol (apart from the small caveat mentioned above), which would explain the rise in diesel cars on our roads. It wasn’t so long ago that the Golf TDi, which I had the pleasure to drive to Cornwall from Essex one morning, was considered a major breakthrough is allaying the fears of committed petrol users. It was fairly quiet, smooth and didn’t eat up too much fuel or smell too bad. Of course now we know that such a journey is perfect for such an engine.

So far, emission controls have concentrated on reducing CO2 emissions, but NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) levels have continued to rise with the amount of diesel cars on our roads.

The counter-argument against Boris’s plan is that many small businesses use diesel vans, as well as the large population of diesel taxis in the city of London. In fact it is argued by the RAC that there are actually relatively few diesel cars in central London.

electric van london

Euro 6 comes into play in January 2015 and the ULEZ is planned to be introduced in 2020. So technically there is still a fair bit of time for the big switch back to petrol or the possible mini-explosion of even better electric vehicles that can make a stand for a cleaner London.

Early days yet of course, but whenever new measures are introduced, there are always those that suffer – and inevitably this is often the small business user. Maybe the government might like to consider an incentive scheme to encourage diesel owners to change – rather like the thinly veiled incentive to encourage drivers into diesel cars in the first place with lower VED bands.

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