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“Dieselgate”: the time for change has come

News - 10/24/2017

Since the stepping down of Volkswagen’s CEO and the engineers’ admission, in the autumn of 2015, that cheating software had indeed been used to fool emissions tests, the group has been in turmoil. In the United States alone, VW was fined around 22 billion dollars. Several million vehicles also had to be recalled.

The scandal has led to deep transformations across the entire industry. Investigations have been initiated in France against other car manufacturers and consumers are now wary of diesel and its association with NOx (nitrogen oxide). Several research projects have proven the harmful nature of these emissions.

Scientists based in Austria, the Netherlands and Norway reached damning conclusions . They calculated that every year in Europe, around 10,000 deaths1 were caused by fine-particle pollution produced by light-duty diesel vehicles. Almost half (4,750) would have been avoided if the actual nitrogen oxide emissions produced by vehicles on the roads were those observed in test laboratories.

The end of an era

Governments throughout the world are determined to act. China, the world’s largest automobile market, is thinking of a possible ban on the manufacture and sale of cars powered by fossil fuels. France and the United Kingdom have already committed to banning new vehicles that use fossil fuels exclusively by 2040, while the Netherlands and Norway may set even more ambitious targets. The Scottish government is arguing in favour of outlawing the sale of 100% petrol or diesel fuelled cars before 2032.

Car manufacturers also intend to learn from the past. Almost all are making announcements on their conversion to electric vehicles. Volvo was particularly quick on the draw: by 2019, all new models will be equipped with electric or hybrid technology. And BMW plans to produce 12 models of this type by 2025. During the first half of 2017, BMW sold 42 573 electric and hybrid plug-in cars – a 80% rise over one year. While the percentage of these vehicles in overall sales is only 3.5%, the firm has set a target of 100,000 electric vehicles sold this year.

Jaguar Land Rover announced that its new models would all be electric or hybrid from 2020 onwards, while Hyundai Motor has unveiled plans to launch an electric sedan with a range of 500 km in 2021. The manufacturer and its subsidiary Kia Motors which together form the world’s 5th largest automobile group in terms of sales, are planning the launch of 31 environment-friendly
models by 2020, of which eight will be electric and two will be powered by fuel cell technology. An electric fuel cell bus is also to be unveiled by the end of the year.

Beyond regulatory issues, the lower cost of fuel cell batteries and the still scare development development of infrastructure are supporting a market that in still in its very early stages. According to the most recent data  published by the European association of car manufacturers, in 2016 100% electric and hybrid vehicles accounted for 433,847 new car registrations
(close to 3% of the total). But there is no doubt that the “Dieselgate” scandal will continue to shake things up.

1. Source: Environmental Research Letters; September 2017.