Wednesday 25 April 2018

Miles yet to go with diesel car

The preference for diesel cars continues apace and is reflected in a poor show by electric vehicles, writes Campbell Spray

I have a Diesel watch, a Diesel belt and a Diesel T-shirt. They have all been around for sometime and are fond possessions. To go with them, last week I was testing a Mercedes-Benz diesel C-Class coupe. But unfortunately nearly every week I drive a diesel-powered car. Some of the engines are good, most have great economy and good emissions and many of them are suitable to the type of vehicle they are in; but not all of them.

The rush to diesel among new car purchasers is out of control and purely driven by our emission-based VRT and road tax rates. Of course, a car like the BMW 520, which is likely to have a high mileage when driven by a company executive, is rightly powered by diesel, but small family cars that are mainly used for short runs shouldn't be. It's not good for the engine nor the environment. CO2 emissions might come down but poisons go up. An efficient, clean petrol engine is far better on so many fronts.

However, in many ways that is not the present battleground. The search to stop relying on any type of fossil fuel for vehicle propulsion has made the headlines but the reality on the ground is very different. Electric and hybrid cars just haven't made any real impact yet here.

This is partly because of infrastructural delays, but mostly it is because people are not drawn to paying over the odds for a vehicle with range constraints when a new run-of-the-mill car offers such great economy albeit powered by a fast declining source. But then our grid, which will recharge the electric vehicle, is also almost totally reliant on fossil-fuel power at the moment.

Only 36 electric cars were sold in the first six months of this year, which -- despite the lateness of the implementation of the funding scheme -- indicates a potentially very poor figure for the overall year.

Yet all is not lost: Renault is starting to become fairly aggressive with its electric version of the Fluence model, which as a diesel was very popular in the scrappage scheme; Opel is showing off to journalists its Ampera model in The Hague at the moment; and all the major manufacturers have some version in the pipeline, as it were.

However, these days, when every spare cent is conserved, the already questionable green credentials of electric cars in some markets begin to look even less attractive. A very thorough comparison last weekend in The Daily Telegraph between the electric Nissan Leaf and the diesel VW Golf Bluemotion 1.6TDi was not good news for the EV lobby.

Taking into account 40,000 miles over four years and depreciation on purchase price, fuel costs, subsidies and everything else, the diesel Golf came very much out on top, leading to the conclusion that "the panacea of electric motoring isn't as clear as some would like you to believe, to the point where it's almost impossible to see how it could become a viable option without massive investment".

And it concludes "in the meantime you begin to realise just how good petrol and diesel are. If they didn't exist already, we would probably have invented them."

Which segues me nicely back to to the Merc C-Class Coupe, which is rather beautiful but too low and claustrophobic for me and far more suitable for those people who are younger and more attractive. But I couldn't get over the fact that despite an automatic gearbox and some lovely power the fuel gauge hardly moved.

When a very solid €40k Merc diesel Coupe gives up to 67mpg and has emissions that put it into the lowest (€104) tax band it is putting it up to the electric lobby. It also means I will be driving a lot more diesel, much as I would rather not sometimes.

Sunday Independent

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