British drivers have had a warning shot fired across the bonnet of their diesel-powered cars: Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, intends to hit diesel cars with an additional £10 tax to enter a newly created Ultra Low Emission Zone in London.
If introduced, the pollution penalty would be in place by 2020. In addition, the mayor is said by The Times newspaper to be lobbying the government to increase the proportion of Vehicle Excise Duty, or road tax, on diesel-powered cars which fail to meet tough new targets for exhaust emissions.
The move comes as Britain fails to meet air quality targets set by the EU. In February, the European Commission launched legal proceedings against Britain over air pollution, which scientists believe is contributing to poor air quality that is causing an estimated 29,000 premature deaths in the UK each year.
Other cities are reported to be considering similar plans to those held by Johnson for London, including Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield.
Diesels emit a higher proportion of NO2, which scientists say is harmful to health and associated with respiratory symptoms, inflammation of the lung lining and susceptibility to bronchitis.
However, the government has encouraged the rapid rise of diesel-powered cars, by setting road tax and company car tax rates against the level of CO2 that cars emit, which favours efficient diesel engines.
Where does this leave drivers who are considering buying a new or used car – and should they choose diesel or petrol powered cars?
“Those who use their car to commute into city centres should either look for cars that meet the new Euro 6 emissions regulations, or they may wish to postpone their buying decision until there is clarity for consumers,” said Nick Reid, head of transformation at Green Flag.
Matthew Pencharz, the mayor’s environment adviser, told The Times that diesel cars which meet tough emissions regulations – the recently introduced Euro 6 regulations for new vehicles – would probably qualify as clean enough to be exempt from the pollution penalty.
“Euro 6 emissions regulations were drafted to address the concerns over NO2 particulates from diesel cars, and the criteria to meet them are tough. So if drivers who wish to drive the cleanest diesel possible should ask the manufacturer’s sales staff to confirm whether the car is Euro 6 compliant,” suggests Reid.
In addition, used car buyers should seek out cars built after 2005. “Many models from this era adopted advanced direct fuel injection and particulate filters to meet EURO 4 legislation, so they are relatively fuel efficient and clean,” says Reid.
He adds that the development of new cars and cleaner engines, such as hybrid petrol-electric models, plug-in hybrids like the BMW i8, and electric cars like the Tesla Model S, is rapidly accelerating. “More choice comes to the market each year and in five years time the landscape and choice for drivers will be very different.”
(For vehicles 10 years & under on our closest equivalent UK cover)