The knives are out for diesel power

The 1.4 petrol Opel Corsa averaged between 40 and 56 miles a gallon pottering about on Ibiza.
The 1.4 petrol Opel Corsa averaged between 40 and 56 miles a gallon pottering about on Ibiza.
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The shrink back from diesel power is remorseless, with some manufacturers dropping the oily stuff completely – even though others tell us it’s never been cleaner and can rival petrol for a bill of health. Research on cutting diesel pollution at Loughborough University looks promising at this stage, but is a couple of years away from the market.

In April sales of new petrol cars rose by 38.5 per cent while diesel was down 24.9 per cent. “Alternative” fuel cars like hybrids and electrics were up 49 per cent but still made just 5.6 per cent of April sales.

Do we feel “sorry” for companies which had staked their buoyancy on diesel? April saw 1,000 lay-offs at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) – which exports three in every four cars it makes. It blames worries over Brexit and the future of diesel engines.

One irony is that JLR has spent millions on these engines to match the refinement and economy of its rivals. It has petrol engines but they lack the pulling muscle and fuel economy of diesel in a hefty SUV. Happily, sales of both marques improved massively in April compared with last April, reducing the year-on-year decline.

The company did have one bit of nice publicity when the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk left their wedding at Windsor in a classic Jaguar E-Type roadster with an electric engine. It all looked serene. JLR is working on electric power but these things take time.

The distrust of diesel is evident in buyers’ attitudes. Suddenly it has lost its appeal. One reader asked what second-hand petrol 4x4 could replace his Skoda Octavia diesel 4x4 – now not wanted because of its perceived toxic footprint. The answer was not easy to give, because secondhand petrol 4x4s are rare. My advice, keep the Skoda diesel.

Another, set on replacing a diesel Kia estate with petrol power at the righteous request of his “green” wife, found a nice nearly new Mercedes-Benz diesel with Euro 6 emissions ratings and the Adblue clean-up technology. She who must be obeyed was swayed to stay with diesel.

Much depends on the sort of driving you do. I have just returned from Ibiza, and the lottery of car hire. I was allocated a 90hp 1.4 petrol Opel Corsa, a happy enough drive on a small island where fuel economy is not that important and diesel fumes can be intrusive. Pottering about it averaged between 40 and 56 miles a gallon.

The car was in almost unblemished condition and cost me just €122 (£107) for 12 days. The depot was in walking distance of the terminal which makes life less stressful if you are short of time when dropping off. One fuss was a €70 deposit, repayable when taking the car back with a full tank and a receipt no more than two hours old from a garage within a few miles of the airport. Finding a fuel station added half an hour to the schedule – only to learn that “the computer was down” and my refund could not be made immediately. These things happen. I’ll use them again, when maybe I’ll get the Nissan Micra I’d hoped for: hiperrentacar.com

The snag about the diesel debacle is that a good diesel engine is a delight. You don’t need one for island life but here we are accustomed to the torquey flexibility of diesel power. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has been anxious to stem the drain from diesel – no doubt chivvied by those of its important members like JLR hit hardest by the decline.

Some have seen the light and are ditching diesel. Honda will not offer diesel power in future models. The CR-V, here in September, will be the first to lose diesel. There will be a 1.5 litre VTEC petrol turbo and – a first on a Honda SUV in Europe – a 2-litre petrol hybrid following. Both will be available with 4x4 transmission. Dubbed the world’s best-selling SUV, it will offer seven seats and production moves from Swindon to Japan.

Dirtier vehicles are being obstructed and even outlawed. France is taking the toughest stance on traffic pollution, with CRIT’Air Vignette restrictions and bans on traffic movement if air quality deteriorates. Drivers need to have a screen sticker showing the vehicle’s pollution category. Paris has already banned some older vehicles completely between 8am and 8pm on weekdays. Other areas with restrictions include the department of Gironde and its capital Bordeaux, Vendée, Maine et Loire, Lille and many more. The RAC says cars registered before 1997, motorbikes and scooters from before June 2000, and trucks and buses from before 2001 are the main offenders in terms of emissions. Fines for cars and motor bikes are €68 and €135 for commercial vehicles. The RAC warns of scam selling of stickers. The vignette costs €3.11 plus postage from the French government site www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/en.