It was something of a welcome relief for many that the government’s draft Air Quality Plan (see News Extra, page 10) seemed to have taken the heat out of the intense focus on ’dastardly diesel’ vehicles and their drivers. With threats of financial penalties and the suggestion that the use of diesel fuel is linked to a horrifying figure of 40,000 deaths a year how awful, where did that number suddenly spring from? diesel drivers have, in a very short space of time, been held up as the pariahs of the road.
There has seemed to be no apology for the fact that it was actually a previous government’s fault for this situation and the majority of drivers were incentivised either financially or by sating a green conscience to opt for diesel.
But perhaps these proposals are a kind of apology, exercising a more cautious approach indeed much too cautious for some environmental organisations and not ramping up indignant diesel drivers by over-penalising them. It also gives the market time to adjust. After all it’s taken many years for the motor industry to gear up to accommodating growing demand, and the consequential diesel fuel sales to build to more than half of all retail fuel sold. It can’t be changed overnight.
Apart from that, diesel engine development has come on in leaps and bounds, and I’m pleased to see Jaguar Land Rover boss Jeremy Hicks taking a pro-active stance by trying to educate motorists that not all diesel engines are bad. He claims his company’s latest Euro 6 engines are among the cleanest in the world, with efficient diesel filters capturing 99.9% of all particles.
The Energy Saving Trust which will be working with the government to create clean air zones says diesel scrappage is by no means the whole story, and that diesel vehicles remain a "good choice for certain journey types... such as if you regularly drive long distances at higher speeds". It says electric vehicles may be more approriate for city and town driving.
Hopefully, the new proposals will give everyone a bit of breathing space to make the right decisions in future. But I hope the government gets its facts right this time.