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The ban on diesel cars: will it soon to become reality?

February 20th, 2020
topic:Pollution
by:Ama Lorenz
located in:United Kingdom
tags:air pollution, diesel, emission

Diesel vehicles have, for decades, been the first choice for many drivers, wooed by the promise of more efficient mileage and better acceleration at low speeds. However, recent focus in the media has highlighted the negative impact that diesel engines have on the environment and all sorts of restrictions on the purchase or driving of diesel vehicles have been proposed.

It would be unsurprising if diesel drivers feel that they are already at the centre of a relentless war: higher tax bands, expensive maintenance bills and compulsory charges for entering low emission or clean air zones in some cities have driven up the cost of motoring in recent years. 

As a result, some motorists have already made the conscious decision not to purchase diesel cars, with sales of new vehicles 25% lower last year and surveys revealing that a high proportion of diesel drivers are considering switching to petrol or electric models in future.

For die-hard supporters of diesel cars – not to mention the legions of commercial vehicles that invariably rely on diesel for fuel efficiency – a more serious threat is the possibility of a complete ban on diesels in the not-too-distant future. But what exactly will a ban look like and when will diesel cars be banned?

Targeting urban centres

On a regional or local level at least, diesel cars could be prohibited from some UK cities within years. Bristol, for example, is likely to go a step further than those councils imposing clean air zones by implementing a complete ban on diesel vehicles entering a designated part of the city centre, with the exception of taxis and emergency vehicles.

As the first city in the country to consider such a radical step, Bristol – which is proposing to introduce the ban from March 2021 – could establish a trend that other councils may follow in order to meet their obligations under law to reduce nitrous oxide emissions within their perimeter. 

With up to 23 other cities facing the same challenges as Bristol – and others that may opt into similar schemes voluntarily – local bans on diesel vehicles could become commonplace even within the new parliament.

A wholesale UK ban

If current plans that have preliminarily been agreed by the government are followed through, then an outright ban on the sale of new diesel cars in England and Wales could be in place within two decades. Initially positioned for a 2040 introduction, the government has hinted at bringing forward implementation of the ban to 2035.

At the Conservative Party conference this autumn, the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said, ‘The government’s own advisory committee on climate change said 2035 is a date for which we should aim’.

The change in date would also bring England and Wales more into line with other countries, such as Scotland and the Republic of Ireland who have identified 2032 and 2030 respectively for the introduction of bans on the sale of new vehicles that are not emission-free.

However, these bans do not only apply to diesel vehicles but to petrol ones as well, making the intentions of diesel owners to switch to petrol models irrelevant in the long-term as, under the plans, only electric cars would be permissible – and this introduces a raft of logistical difficulties for the government, local authorities and vehicle owners to overcome.

The practical problems with all-electric cars

At present there are approximately 6,500 charging points dotted around the UK, but anecdotal evidence is that a number of these are not in fully operational order. The locations of these existing charging points tend to be away from residential areas, instead focused on major routes and at motorway service stations, so a significant area of concern is how motorists will charge their cars while they are parked at home overnight and during weekends.

If charging points are to be installed close to domestic properties, as has been suggested following the government’s decision to set aside money to fund their installation in residential areas, how will these supply large numbers of vehicles in a narrow window, especially considering that the number of two car households is on the increase?

If car owners can charge their electric vehicles from their domestic electricity supply, will the National Grid be able to support heavy nationwide demand at peak times?

It is also unclear whether electric vehicle batteries are sufficiently well-developed to supersede those powered by fossil fuels. At present, some vehicles can travel 200 miles between charges, but others can manage as little as 50 miles. Long distance journeys are therefore likely to be challenging until more efficient car batteries are developed that can sustain a longer charge.

With these problems in mind, the question that all vehicle owners and commercial fleet managers should be asking is, not when will diesel cars be banned, but will the infrastructure in the UK be in place to support mass ownership of electric models on time? Or will car owners have to consider some significant changes to their daily lives if the government’s model for addressing the climate change problem is delivered by 2035?

Article written by:
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Ama Lorenz
Editor-in-Chief, Editorial Board Member, Author
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United Kingdom
Recent focus in the media has highlighted the negative impact that diesel engines have on the environment and all sorts of restrictions on the purchase or driving of diesel vehicles have been proposed.
Some motorists have already made the conscious decision not to purchase diesel cars, with sales of new vehicles 25% lower last year.
On a regional or local level at least, diesel cars could be prohibited from some UK cities within years.