That whiff in the air isn’t just from diesel particulates it’s the smell of hypocrisy
As European governments and politicians howl with righteous indignation evidence is unraveling daily that far too many people knew about the Emission Impossible affair for far too long. And they weren’t just inside the car industry but government departments, regulators and the European Commission itself. Obsessed with the guilt of CO2 and the apocalyptic threat of global warming they covered the ears with their hands and allowed (and incentivised) diesel to such a degree that its become Europe’s dominant passenger car fuel which now outsells petrol by up to 40%. But collectively they didn’t just fail us by ignoring the many concerned warnings over the years about the toxicity of diesel emission or allowing such an inaccurate and faulted testing regime to exist in the first place, they also made policy decisions that drove us to the insane and unbelievable situation we face today.
Oil speculators, banks, and commodity traders were allowed to hike up the cost of crude to unaffordable levels. Remember how in 2008 the price of a barrel of oil touched $145 and the global economy collapsed? Brent crude is now hovering around $48 and that poses the Terrifying Question. Was nearly $100 of that epic barrel price just middlemen speculation and price manipulation? Was that huge and globally debilitating oil price the result of just more systemic corporate immorality? By allowing such massive invigoration of prices through unregulated market activity consumers across Europe were forced to choose cars that wrung every last mile from their tanks – hence the widespread adoption of high MPG diesel. We can’t blame drivers for going for the cheapest running costs. Government policy forced us to buy diesel cars.
Only 2% of car buyers are actually interested in emissions, the other 98% care about the thing that touches them most – miles to the gallon. But to make things worse the UK was burdened with one of the highest fuel duty regimes in Europe putting yet more pressure on cash-strapped drivers to reduce their fuel bills. If this government had sat down and designed an official policy to ensure that half the drivers in the UK drove a diesel car they couldn’t have done a better job than we see today. They accidentally steered consumers towards polluting but high MPG cars by allowing the price of oil and fuel to soar to impossibly expensive levels. And they did it to appease the green lobby, to prove their shiny environmental credentials. They sacrificed air quality on the golden alter of climate change. They thought that if fuel became too expensive we’d all drive less. The car industry may have fiddled their figures but governments tacitly allowed the oil industry to massage theirs too. And the result is a set of unintended consequences that will cost Europe more than just money.
FairFuelUK asked for a government enquiry into oil pricing. We asked for an OFT investigation into road fuel pricing and campaigned for lower fuel duty and a halt to future fuel tax rises. And we did it because we knew ill-informed government policy was forcing drivers to make the wrong decisions because fuel prices were far too high. We warned that the road fuel market was dysfunctional and that things needed to change but all our demands for investigations were ignored. We now know this unthinking obsession to reduce CO2 and selective blindness to an official emissions testing regime that clearly wasn’t working pushed consumers into making car buying decisions that made our air and atmosphere worse, not better. So while politicians lecture Europe from their moral high ground let’s not forget it was their policies and their environmental point-scoring that created the demand for diesel-engined cars that could never meet the emission targets they themselves had set. Didn’t they see the tailpipe soot on the street? Weren’t they told that diesel particulate filters on cars weren’t working? Didn’t they realise NOx levels in our cities were rising not falling? Couldn’t they see the yellow haze of PM10 pollution hanging in the air?
And now politicians and regulators are in crisis mode they’re trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has run a hundred furlongs by saying they’ll re-test every single car on sale to see if it meets real driving emission standards. Well, they’re in for another seismic shock because very few cars on sale will meet those EU targets and many will show alarmingly high levels of NOx and particulates.
And that’s simply because the system our politicians created and were supposed to monitor has never worked.
All those much-vaunted targets will have to change along with VED duties, Benefit in Kind calculations and Certificates of Conformity. The cost to consumers and taxpayers will be huge, the European motor industry will buckle, jobs will be lost, GDP will fall and interest rates and inflation will rise. More importantly it will take years to clear our air and cities of a pall of soot and particulates. They might as well ban the car altogether. This is an epic fiasco that happened on the European Commission’s watch. There’s accountability here.
And in another stunning display of naivety governments across Europe are going to also test cars to see if they reach their official MPG figures. Even my five-year-old will tell you that nobody achieves those figures in real world driving. How could they? Cars tested in labs can’t possibly reflect the variables of climate, road conditions and differing driver abilities. The vast majority of motorists know that there’s at least a 20% difference between actual MPG and official fuel consumption figures. Motoring journalists like me have been highlighting this disparity for years and it’s become one of those urban myths we’ve all come to grudgingly accept. So why don’t legislators and regulators know this too? If they genuinely aren’t aware of this difference it shows a deeply serious lack of knowledge that’s simply unforgivable. But I guess that’s the essential truth in all this: governments don’t know enough about cars, vans, trucks, roads and fuel. We’ve seen this repeatedly at FairFuelUK when we’ve tried to engage with politicians and seen alarming chasms in their knowledge, awareness and experience. And that lack of expertise is due to one thing – Europe’s political class isn’t interested in their respective road economies. They couldn’t care less. Cars, trucks and roads don’t interest them at all. That’s all got to change.
The Volkswagen Group were totally duplicitous but poor regulation and governance allowed that duplicity to go unchecked in Europe and in a bizarre act of corporate insanity they thought they’d get away with the same trick in the U.S where regulatory systems and processes are much more searching. The unfolding emissions debacle is to Europe’s eternal shame and proof positive that politicians need to take much more interest and be much better informed on the subject of road transport and fuel pricing. Blame for all this definitely needs to be parked and while there’s a large space outside the VW factory in Wolfsburg there’s also another huge one bang in front of the European Commission in Brussels. We must never allow such shoddy regulation to ever happen again.