On yer bike: the beginning of the end for diesels

EDITOR'S BLOG: With all that vile soot spewing onto us cyclists, diesel was bound to die off sooner rather than later.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 17 Dec 2015

This morning, as the news broke that 400,000 VW diesel vehicles in Britain will require extensive re-working in the garage, I cycled into work. About five miles through London’s streets, dodging concrete mixers that drip cementy pebbles from the back, the jerks on their eardrum-splitting, anti-social Harley Davidsons and skip trucks driven by their piece-working maniacs. It’s hell out there.

And, of course, I pedal gamely through a miasma of diesel fumes. Cyclists could have told you years ago that diesels were nasty and that the eco lobby that promoted them had it all wrong. When you are passed by a tipper truck, a black cab  or a bus spewing out its hot emissions all over you, you get a vile taste in your mouth. A two cylinder petrol-driven Fiat 500 emits Chanel No 5 from its rear end by comparison. Doubtless if you turned my lungs inside out now there would be millions of nasty, black, sooty particulates nestling in my alveoli. Never mind the ones that have made it all the way to my ailing brain.

Even before the VW scandal the tide had started to turn against diesels. The EU is now down on them, they get taxed more heavily by cash-strapped local authorities when you want a parking permit and diesel cars will be banned from Paris by 2020.

This is quite a reversal. As we wrote in MT in early September: ‘Consider that in 2002, diesel-engined cars accounted for 23.5% of the UK's new car market. Three years later, this number had accelerated to 36.8% and by 2008, it had reached 43.5%.’

‘And then the market levelled off. Diesels took 50.8% last year, but in the first half of 2013 they dropped, falling to 49.0%. And no, it's not electric cars that are knocking them back; their share is a mere 1.5% so far this year, compared with the 1.3% they held at the halfway stage in 2012. Instead, it's petrol-engined cars whose sales have risen, by a couple of percentage points so far this year.’

Car ownership in cities is going to get harder and harder. That’s why Uber and car sharing is such a great idea if you cannot bear costly and crowded public transport. Of course, in the end, we’re all probably headed down the electric route. I tested the BMW i3 this summer for MT and it isn’t bad at all. But it only does 55 miles on one charge and costs a small fortune at thirty grand.

However, electric cars will require larger amounts of energy to be generated by our power stations. And just look at the mess the government is currently in with that - going cap in hand to the Chinese trying to find the cash to build the next generation of nuclear capacity. We got there with this, as well, from MT in May 2013: can we keep the lights on at UK plc?

You can, of course, join me and Jeremy Corbyn on two wheels. It’s one of the few things that makes the Labour leader appealing.

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