Latest figures from Automotive Industry Data (AID) show that in 2003 diesel accounted for 44% of the West European car market, up from just over 20% ten years’ ago. In some markets, such as Austria, Belgium and France, diesel penetration is now 60% to 70%, while in Sweden it is under 8% and Greece only 1%. Might this have major implications for global politics?
Probably not, you might say, but in two areas it will have an effect, both because diesel cars are around 25% to 35% more fuel efficient than their petrol counterparts.
First, in terms of meeting Europe’s international environmental commitments, diesel reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons compared with petrol-engined cars roughly in proportion to the lower amounts of fuel burned. Conversely they increase emissions of soot, though new regulations and cleaner fuels should help here and these are a local, not international concern.
Second, in burning far less fuel they reduce huge Europe’s reliance on imported oil (diesel cars are much more fuel-efficient), much of which comes from those political unstable middle-eastern countries we hear so much about.
Both factors should become increasingly important as the upward trend in diesel demand shows little sign of slowing, with traditionally apathetic diesel markets such as the UK seeing some of the fastest growth. Growth has been fuelled by Europe’s expensive fuel costs, which make more economic diesel engines substantially cheaper to run, and technological advances which have reduced the gap in performance between diesel and petrol-engined cars. For example, you can now get a Golf GTI diesel .
It’s also interesting in that it seems to me a rare example of technologies diverging across the globe. Diesel accounts for less than 1% of US car and light-truck sales, and only a little more of those in Japan and China. International environmental considerations matter less in the US (and soot emissions standards are tighter), but concerns over dependence on Middle Eastern oil might play better. A study by the Department of Energy noted that a 30% diesel share of new car sales would cut US oil imports by 350,000 barrels a day. Nevertheless I wouldn’t hold your breath.