Is diesel done?

Cars in Rome
CC BY 2.0 Cars in Rome/ Lloyd Alter

With bans coming in Rome, Milan and a few German cities, people are voting with their wallets.

In Italy last year, 2/3 of the cars sold were diesels. But now the City of Rome plans to ban diesels by 2024. According to the Guardian,

Pollution from combustion engines causes severe damage to Rome’s many ancient outdoor monuments. According to a study last year by a branch of the culture ministry, 3,600 stone monuments and 60 bronze sculptures risk serious deterioration because of air pollution.

Milan has announced plans to make the city diesel-free by 2030.

But perhaps the biggest news is from Germany, where diesel bans in Dusseldorf and Stuttgart were challenged in court. Now a higher court has ruled that cities have the legal right to ban diesels.

The court said it would be up to city and municipal authorities to apply the bans, but advised them to “exercise proportionality” in enforcing them, and to impose them gradually, granting exemptions for certain vehicles, such as ambulances, rubbish collection lorries and police cars.

According to Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg, "from now on, buying a diesel car is an act of unnecessary courage." The federal government is against these bans, and insists that no federal bans are coming.

The coalition agreement on the formation of the next German government specifically says -- twice -- that diesel bans are to be avoided and that cleaner air can be achieved by other means, such as increasing the share of electric cars and using them for government service.

But in fact the German car buyers are voting with their wallets; used diesels are sitting on the lots and their residual values are dropping fast. Fewer people are going to buy diesels if they worry that they won't be able to sell it.

That's a major headache, not just for car owners but also for the German car industry. Diesel cars made up 45.8 percent of new registrations in Germany in 2016, the latest year for which data are available from the European Automobile Manufacturing Association. That's not as high as Ireland's 70 percent, yet high enough to make quick retooling expensive -- not to mention the potential for angry car owners' demands that manufacturers retrofit their cars to comply with pollution regulations. There's already political pressure on them to bear any potential costs of such retrofits.

According to Kate Connolly in the Guardian,

..excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides or NOx in the air kill between 6,000 and 13,000 people in Germany every year, causing a range of health conditions, from strokes to asthma. Most NOx comes from transport, especially diesel motors. The EU threshold of 40 micrograms of NOx per cubic metre is frequently exceeded in many German cities, with 70 on the list, most notably Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Munich.

Diesels also pump out PM2.5 particulates, which can be reduced by up to 90 percent by filters, but which need regular maintenance; according to one source, they clog up when used mainly for urban driving.

Parking in RomeHow they park in Rome: everywhere. /Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, when you go to cities like Rome or Milan, it's clear that they are just completely overwhelmed with cars, they are everywhere. At some point they are going to have to do a lot more than just ban diesels.

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