Before Volkswagen is reduced to a smoking ruin buy a tsunami of media outrage, we need to understand one seminal point: in the UK government, legislators, engineers and consumers have know that the current tailpipe emission and fuel efficiency testing regimes established by the EU have always been nonsense. We’ve all known they’ve been woefully inaccurate for years. Most ordinary motorists take official fuel economy figures with a huge pinch of salt and for years the media has been full of stories about real world fuel consumption being totally different from official figures. We know this is a fact of driving life. The righteous indignation we’re hearing in the UK now has a hollow ring. If we didn’t get the fuel economy those official figures promised, how on earth could the emission figures be accurate as well?
VW were totally wrong to knowingly develop software that deliberately cheats emission testing but we mustn’t ignore the fact that everybody in the automotive and testing industry plus the governments who oversee the testing process knew that figures were being routinely fudged. There are allegations that the German government we well aware of this as well. The wholetesting process is faulted, allowing test cars to run in labs on special low resistance tyres with low friction oils andhave the door apertures taped over to improve wind resistance and fuel efficiency. Everybody, including governments and legislators, allowed this to happen to meet often unrealistic and impossible emission and economy figures to appease the green lobby. This massive deception was caused by our collective paranoia about the effects of CO2 and global warming in the early 2000s. Governments sought political capital from a knee-jerk reaction to the threat of climate change and didn’t properly consider facts and evidence. FairFuelUK has said before that Gordon Brown’s decision to cut the duty on low sulphur diesel in 2001 was a major factor in making UK motorists switch from petrol to diesel. We were told that diesel was better for the environment than petrol, which is why 50% of UK motorists switched over to diesel cars. We were told it was the right thing to do. We were misled.
At one stage the official Highway Code booklet even advised new drivers to buy a diesel cars instead of petrol because it was ‘greener’. Nobody looked at the particulates and soot emissions from diesel closely enough and we were told that petrol and CO2 were the worst polluters and the biggest threat to global climate change. Now, when it’s far too late, we know that diesel pollutes in a completely different way. Anybody who drives on our roads has seen the black clouds of soot from diesel exhausts during acceleration and not just from cars but buses, vans and HGVs too. And these particulates represent a serious health risk that needs much more research and understanding. The VW emissions scandal will mean that the supremacy of the diesel engine may be threatened and that the current emissions testing regime in Europe needs a massive and complete overhaul.
What’s really ironic though is that consumers generally don’t buy cars on their low emissions. Most of us buy on fuel economy and most of us knew those much-vaunted official MPG figures were never accurate. So the charge that this sandal has somehow disadvantaged car buyers seems very far-fetched indeed. VW definitely shouldn’t have engineered such duplicity into their engine software but also governments in the US and Europe shouldn’t have allowed their official testing procedures to be so imperfect and inaccurate. And don’t blame the entire car industry for all this. Their collective efforts over decades to improve economy, efficiency and emissions have been significant and to ignore such enormous technological advance would be grossly unfair. We never hear environmentalists railing about power stations, trains buses or shipping pollution – its always cars. I can’t help thinking that some of this tirade of media indignation we’ve been hearing over the last couple of days is the old battle of left versus right with the car as the central metaphor. Let’s not get distracted by the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad debate and concentrate instead on the two things that really matter most in all this. We need a new robust Europe-wide fuel economy and emissions testing system that’s accurate using real world driving and we need much, much more research on the health dangers of diesel.