Industry news / 14 January 2016, 4:10pm / Annika Grah, Jan-Henrik Petermann and Martin Bensley
Flensburg, Germany - Germany's love affair with the diesel engine shows no sign of flagging despite the emissions-rigging #Dieselgate scandal that has rocked Volkswagen.
Green campaigners still attack self-igniters for producing high levels of toxic nitrogen-oxide air pollutants, yet cheap fuel in Europe continues to boost the popularity of diesel engines. Sales of diesel-powered cars are buoyant across Europe.
At the same time, interest in all-electric cars in Germany is minimal. In 2015 a grand total of 12 363 electric-only cars were sold, compared to 3.2 million cars with combustion engines, nearly half of them diesels.
Sales of hybrids which combine a combustion engine with an electric motor have gone up but are still comparatively low.
Compared to petrol engines, diesels produce less carbon dioxide, which is the primary greenhouse gas driving the process of climate change.
On the downside, the output of nitrogen oxide NOx output by diesels is higher. This leads to dirtier air, since nitrous oxide reacts with sunlight in the atmosphere and changes into ozone.
Carmakers have focused on cutting carbon dioxide, since converting NOx into less harmful substances is harder to achieve.
VW chose to develop a NOx trap to soak up the pollutant, but they also programmed the device to switch off, hence the emissions scandal.
Germans are well aware that diesels could be greener, but it has not put them off buying self-igniters. Cheap fuel plays a part, while road tax on diesels is also much lower in Germany.
Modern diesel engines are also seen in Europe as being as clean and efficient as their petrol counterparts. Diesel motors generally last longer too.
Experts blame the German government for failing to wean Germans off the diesel. Taxes on diesel fuel are still much lower than those for petrol, which keeps diesel cheaper at the pumps.
Despite a higher level of road tax for diesels in Germany, running a self-igniter is still cheaper for drivers who cover higher ditances.
The tax break for diesel owners “has unleashed a veritable diesel boom”, said Duisburg-based Car Institute director Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer.
Berlin had missed the opportunity to reform diesel taxes and at the same time promote zero-emission electric cars, he added.
“Diesels emit anything up to five times more nitrous oxide in city driving than the figures given in the sales brochures claim.”
If the state did not intervene, the already poor air quality in many German cities would deteriorate, Dudenhoeffer predicted.
Carmakers are trapped between a rock and a hard place. They need diesel engines in order to comply with legal targets on fleet CO2 emissions. The targets take into account the average CO2 emissions of all the cars from a particular brand.
One in two new cars sold in western Europe is a diesel and half of these are made in German factories.
Daimler technical boss Thomas Weber explained: “If we were to dispense with diesels altogether, we would have to make up for the sales shortfall.”
Most carmakers do not have enough zero-emission technology up their sleeves to compensate.The only work-around for carmakers is to come up with cleaner cars and that means developing electric propulsion.
At the recent Paris climate summit, Greenpeace insisted there was no getting around the need for more electric propulsion, regardless of how “climate-friendly” diesels were compared to a petrol engine with the same power rating.
“We must move away from oil-fired individual transportation towards post-fossil-fuel mobility,” the pressure group stated.
Meanwhile electric cars remain dogged by heavy batteries, a lack of charging infrastructure and insufficient range.
Berlin wants to see a million pure electric and hybrid cars on German roads by 2020, but the country is a long way from achieving that target.
AvD automobile federation chief Ludwig zu Loewenstein said: “As soon as you talk about electric cars, the range issue comes up.”