Putting the record straight on diesel cars

Today, the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) will today launch a nationwide consumer campaign to raise awareness about the latest low-emission car technology and challenge the increasing demonisation of diesel. It makes very interesting reading for Irish readers too.

The SMMT is one of the largest and most influential trade associations in the UK. It supports the interests of the UK automotive industry at home and abroad, promoting a united position to government, stakeholders and the media.

A ‘Diesel Facts’ myth-busting guide will be available at and in leaflet form via car makers and dealers. It comes as new consumer research reveals widespread confusion about diesel technology that, if uncorrected, could limit adoption of the latest low emission vehicles and undermine the UK’s efforts to meet strict air quality and climate change obligations.


Responding to a YouGov poll, 87% of UK adults said they were unaware of the latest Euro-6 vehicle emission technology, while 54% incorrectly blamed cars and commercial vehicles as the biggest cause of air pollution in the UK. Just under one in five (19%) of people surveyed correctly identified power stations as the biggest contributors of nitrogen oxides (NOx). In fact, it would take 42 million Euro-6 diesel cars (almost four times the number on the roads) to generate the same amount of NOx as one UK coal-fired power station.

Today, SMMT together with some of the biggest car makers, including BMW UK, Ford of Britain, Jaguar Land Rover and Volkswagen, will make a unified stand and put the record straight on diesel cars. The SMMT will also urge policy makers and those considering imposing local measures to avoid confusing motorists by penalising one fuel technology over another.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, at the press conference.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, at the press conference.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said, “Today’s diesel engines are the cleanest ever, and the culmination of billions of pounds of investment by manufacturers to improve air quality. Bans and parking taxes on diesel vehicles therefore make no sense from an environmental point of view. We need to avoid penalising one vehicle technology over another and instead encourage the uptake of the latest low emission vehicles by consumers. The allegations against diesel cars made in recent months threaten to misguide policy making and undermine public confidence in diesel. It’s time to put the record straight.”

A senior BMW Group UK spokesman commented, “Diesel cars produce, on average, 20% less CO2 than equivalent petrol cars and so have a vital role to play in helping to arrest climate change. It is only if British drivers continue to choose diesel cars that the UK can meet its tough CO2 targets. Great strides have been taken to transform diesel engine emissions technology and continued, major investment from the industry is making them even cleaner.”

And a Ford of Britain spokesman said, “We support customer choice and the market should determine the best technologies for meeting CO2 and air quality goals. Ford is committed to offering clean and efficient petrol and diesel engines, as well as the choice of electrified options. In terms of diesel, it is important to underline 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.”

From 1 September 2015, all new cars must meet the new Euro-6 emissions standard making them the cleanest in history. Almost nine out of 10 people surveyed (87%), however, confirmed they have never heard of the term. This is of particular concern given the recent decisions by some local authorities in London to charge diesel-owning residents more to park outside their homes. Some local councils are imposing surcharges based on a vehicle’s Euro Standard rating; others are imposing penalties regardless of their performance. This is despite almost three quarters (72%) of motorists opposing penalties for the UK’s cleanest cars. Of these, 16% think some diesel cars should incur a parking surcharge and others shouldn’t, according to their Euro standard emissions, while 56% believe diesel cars should not incur a surcharge at all, regardless of their rating.

The SMMT is calling for policy makers to adopt a consistent technology-neutral approach towards vehicle incentives and penalties to encourage the uptake of the latest technologies and maximise the benefits for air quality. The automotive industry wants to encourage consumers to continue to choose the cars that fit their lifestyles and is committed to help the UK reach its air quality targets by encouraging the uptake of the latest vehicles, be they petrol, diesel, electric or any of the multitude of technologies now on the market.


The automotive industry’s commitment to reducing emissions is indisputable. Average CO2 emissions for new cars in the UK in 2013 were 128.3g/km, down 29% since 2000 – beating the 2015 target of 130g/km by two years. This progress has been matched by advances in technology to cut other pollutants, resulting in filters which capture more than 99% of particulate matter (PM10) emissions. Criticisms that vehicles fail to deliver real world improvements compared to ‘controlled test cycle conditions’ are also being addressed, with the Euro-6 standard to include ‘real world’ driving emission testing for the first time. This will give confidence to consumers and regulators alike that these new vehicles are delivering benefits on the road.

Consumers can get all the facts on the latest diesel cars via an online diesel myth-busting guide available at and a fact sheet available from dealers and via manufacturer websites.

Diesel: The Facts

  1. The vehicle emissions standards in force in the UK are among the strictest in the world, and from 1 September 2015, all new cars must meet the new Euro-6 standard – the toughest yet [EURO 6 EU Reg 692/2008 as amended]
  2. The latest diesel cars are the cleanest in history, with high tech filters capturing 99% of all soot particles and exhaust after-treatments reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 84% since 2000 [SMMT data; EURO Standards]
  3. UK NOx emissions from passenger cars have fallen 81% since 1990 – the biggest reduction of any sector [DEFRA AQPI]
  4. And the tech is proven in the real world. Test of new Euro-6 buses on the London 159 Bus Route show a 95% drop in NOx emissions over older Euro-5 vehicles. [TfL]
  5. It would take 42 million Euro-6 diesel cars to produce the same amount of NOx as a large coal-fired power station. Electricity generation is the biggest source of NOx emissions affecting air quality, followed by cars and commercial vehicles, heating and non-road transport [EEA; SMMT; DEFRA AQPI; RACF]
  6. In a world without diesel, average fuel use for new cars in the UK would be 11% higher – amounting to an extra £315 million per year in fuel bills for British drivers. [SMMT data 2002-14]
  7. Diesel cars have contributed massively to reducing CO2 emissions. Since 2002, buyers choosing diesel have prevented almost three million tonnes of CO2 from going into the atmosphere. [SMMT data 2002-14]
  8. One in three cars on UK roads is fuelled by diesel, and together their drivers rely on them to cover 118 billion miles each year. On average, diesel cars cover 60% more miles than their petrol counterparts. [SMMT]
  9. Almost 900,000 diesel engines worth £2.8 billion, including new Euro-6 units, will be produced in the UK in 2015 – and some 85% of these will be exported [SMMT]
  10. Manufacturers spend billions of pounds developing new diesel technology. In 2014 alone, they invested £1 billion in British production facilities, creating 1,700 jobs. [SMMT]
  11. In 2010, road transport was responsible for 48% of NOx emissions in central London. This is projected to reduce to 40% by 2020, with diesel cars contributing 7% of the overall figure.


Interesting ‘YouGov’ poll results
All figures, unless otherwise stated below, are from YouGov plc. Total sample size was 2,166 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2-3 March, 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Which one of the following best describes your understanding of the term ‘Euro-6’ in relation to cars? Adults (2166)

I have heard of ‘Euro-6’ and know exactly what it means – 2%
I have heard of ‘Euro-6’ and have some understanding of what it means – 5%
I have heard of Euro-6 but don’t know what it means at all – 6%
I have not heard of ‘Euro-6’ at all – 87%

Some councils in the UK have introduced a parking surcharge for residents who have diesel fuelled cars, which they must pay in order to obtain a parking permit within their local area. Some people argue that these measures have been introduced to reduce NOx emissions, whilst others say the Euro Standard rules mean that new diesel cars available this year (Euro 6) emit far less NOx and particulate matter and so no charges should be applied. Thinking about this, which one of the following statements BEST applies to you? Motorists (1486)

  • All diesel cars should incur a surcharge regardless of their Euro Standard rating – 4%
  • All diesel cares should incur a surcharge but the amount should be dependent on their Euro Standard – 8%
  • Some diesel cars should incur a surcharge and others shouldn’t, but this should depend on their Euro Standard – 16%
  • I don’t think diesel cars should incur a surcharge at all regardless of their Euro Standard – 56%
  • Don’t know – 15%

Excluding price consideration, which one, if any, of the following would be most important to you when choosing a car Motorists (1486)

  • The safety rating of the car (Euro NCAP) – 8%
  • It’s fuel economy (miles per gallon) – 41%
  • The cost of road tax on the car (VED/ BIK) – 8%
  • The amount of CO2 the car emits – 2%
  • The insurance rating – 9%
  • The amount of NOx (nitrogen oxides) the car emits – 1%
  • The brand/ manufacturer – 20%
  • None of these – 7%
  • Don’t know – 5%

In general, which one, if any, of the following do you think contributes most towards air pollution (NOx emissions) in the UK? UK adults (2166)

  • Cars – 26%
  • Commercial vehicles (e.g. trucks, buses, etc.) – 28%
  • Power stations – 19%
  • Boilers and heating appliances – 3%
  • Non-road based transport (e.g. trains, planes, ships) – 9%
  • Other – 2%
  • Don’t know – 13%

As in Ireland, the automotive industry is a vital part of the UK economy. There it accounts for more than £64 billion turnover and £12 billion value added. With more than 160,000 people employed directly in manufacturing and in excess of 770,000 across the wider automotive industry, it also accounts for 10 per cent of total UK export of goods and invests £1.9 billion each year in automotive R&D.

Unlike here, in the UK, more than 30 manufacturers build in excess of 70 models of vehicle in the UK supported by around 2,500 component providers and some of the world’s most skilled engineers.

You can access more detail on UK automotive available in SMMT’s Motor Industry Facts 2014 publication at

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Published on: March 11, 2015

Filled Under: News, Technical Articles

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