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How did diesel become so big in the UK and Europe?

Home / News / How did diesel become so big in the UK and Europe?

Diesel is a major topic in the media at the moment because of the Volkswagen emissions scandal and new evidence that use of the fuel is actually worse for the environment and health than originally thought. Whilst people are considering how big the impact of the scandal will be and what the future will hold for diesel, now is a good time to look back and see how we arrived at this point in the UK and Europe.

Diesel engines came into use in the commercial sector in the 1920s and made the shift to passenger cars in the 1930s. It remained a niche market in Europe until the mid 1990s, when there were calls to cut CO2 emissions. Petrol produced 15% more carbon dioxide so diesel was seen as a better alternative and changes could be introduced much faster than the amount of time it would take to research alternative fuels such as electric and hybrid.

The fact that diesel produced less CO2 meant that governments could make major strides towards meeting their emissions targets easily. The governments of several countries, including Britain, Germany, France and Italy, even took steps to offer incentives after lobbying by large car markers. These included keeping the price of the fuel down and basing vehicle taxes on CO2 emissions so diesel drivers paid less.

The end result was that the vehicle fleets in each country changed dramatically. In the UK diesel took off in a huge way, moving from just a 10% market share in 1995 to over 50% in 2012. Now it is estimated that 11.8 million vehicles on British roads are diesel-powered and European countries have seen their numbers rise substantially too.

The problem is that the emissions tests that were used to determine that diesel produced 15% less CO2 than petrol weren’t stringent enough. They also didn’t take into consideration the higher amount of nitrogen dioxide. Now that studies have been conducted into the effects the higher concentration of NO2 can have on health, the decision to push diesel does not seem as wise.

This brings us to the current situation with VW and another factor against the use of diesel; the fact that manufacturers could calibrate the computers of modern vehicles to alter emissions readings. The situation could have a major impact for many years to come. People are waiting to see how the wider industry adapts. Whatever happens, we will continue to offer our services for motor trade recruitment to ensure companies continue to have access to the finest staff.