Car industry figures are warning that the negative focus on diesel pollution is having an unintended consequence – a rise in CO2 emissions. 

Fleets overseen by the British Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association (BVRLA) and figures obtained from the Department for Transport by car sales website show average CO2 emissions of new cars rising for the first time in 14 years and low-CO2 diesel cars are abandoned in favour of petrol engines.

The BVRLA says that average CO2 figures on company cars are up nearly one percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the same period last year. Official government figures show that the average figure for new cars sold in 2017 is 121.1g/km CO2, which is on course to bust last year’s average of 120.3g/km. Car makers have EU targets to average 95g/km CO2 by 2021, which is looking increasingly difficult to meet as diesel sales plummet. 

Diesel sales have tanked in 2017 as a result of the Dieselgate emissions scandal and policy changes by the government and local authorities. Chancellor Phillip Hammond earlier increased VED rates for new diesels and mayor of London Sadiq Khan has overseen the introduction of a new so-called T-Charge in the London congestion zone. 

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Confusing tax policy

BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney blames the government’s tax policy: ‘We currently have a poorly designed tax environment that encourages people to make their own arrangements rather than choosing a company car. This is putting older, higher-polluting grey fleet vehicles on our roads.

‘To this we can add the demonising of diesels and continued uncertainty around air quality measures, which is nudging people towards petrol cars. The inevitable result is that we are seeing CO2 levels increasing.’

Tamzen Isacsson, from car industry trade group SMMT, said that diesels were necessary for lowering CO2 emissions. ‘If industry is to meet challenging CO2 targets getting more of the latest low-emission diesels on to our roads is crucial, as they can emit 20 percent less CO2 than the equivalent petrol models.’

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Diesels not the answer

Peter Mock, managing director of the Europe office of the International Council on Clean Transportation, disagrees – he said that more advanced petrol engines, as well as electric and hybrid technology, could meet the CO2 emissions targets without the need for diesel engines. 

‘Quite a lot of petrol vehicles do not use the latest technologies available and still have higher CO2 emissions than comparable diesel cars. However, the – unfortunately often repeated – statement that diesel cars are necessary to decrease CO2 emissions is simply wrong. Instead, hybridising petrol vehicles and transitioning to electric vehicles today makes more sense for vehicle manufacturers.’

Gallery: Diesel emissions