Industry executives meeting at the Geneva motor show this week face testing choices to re-engineer existing vehicles at huge expense, restrict sales of some profitable models, or risk hundreds of millions of euros in penalties.
While diesels produce more toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates than gasoline engines, their efficiency has been instrumental in cutting greenhouse gases.
As consumers shun diesels, more carmakers are on track to miss tougher EU carbon dioxide goals taking effect in 2020-21 and set at 95gkm.
Sales of diesel cars fell 8 percent in Europe last year, reducing their market share to 44 percent from a 55 percent peak in 2011. Partly as a result, average new-car CO2 emissions actually rose in the UK for the first time in 17 years and are expected to continue climbing as diesel sales further fall in 2018.
Toyota will stop selling diesel powered cars in Europe this year and push petrol-electric hybrids.
Paris and London are effectively banning diesel engines from streets and German cities have been the latest to follow their example. The UK’s failure to meet EU clean air standards will force cities and towns to consider bans or charges to discourage them in the near future.
Its all made worse by the fact that EV technology is not suitable for every buyer and there are issues with the number of vehicles available as well as charging infrastructure, although that is slowly improving.
Hybrids are the best short term solution but they’re not ultimately as clean as full electric vehicles and it is many years in the future before widespread hydrogen powered fuel cell cars make it onto roads in truly significant numbers and they pose refuelling issues as well.
The short term action might be for car makers to restrict sales of higher polluting models and make them rarer, modify powertrains for existing models while they fork out for fines as well.