Want a diesel car? Buy one now before they get too expensive

The good news is that things seem to be looking up a little for 2014. According to just about everyone you speak to in the Irish motor industry, while the year certainly won’t see a return to the bonanza years of back beyond 2008, orders seem to be up across the board and a recovery, albeit a slow and steady one, in car sales is in the offing. 
Which is great and hopefully it means that as the fog of recession lifts, and as the Troika packs its bags and heads home, we can start thinking about buying some truly nice cars again. After all, thanks to the staggering efficiencies of diesel-engined cars, you can now buy cars with big engines and sporty demeanors that have amazingly low Co2 emissions. The current VW Golf is a good case in point. Yes, most of us will be the 1.6 TDI version, but you can get a powerful, grunt 2.0-litre TDI, with 150hp, that’s taxed in Band A3. Remarkable.
Remarkable, but if you want one (or something similar) better buy now, or at least soon. Why? Because cars such as that are going to become enormously expensive in the next few years and it’s all down to the incoming regulations on engine emissions. Known as EuroVI and EuroVII, these new regulations, which every car sold will have to adhere to, will start to come into force in 2015, and they’re primarily designed to make our exhausts as clean as possible.
Now, a clean exhaust to most of us at the moment means Co2, or carbon dioxide. Although it’s one of the primary agents of climate change, you may be surprised to learn that Co2 isn’t technically a pollutant. After all, just by breathing out, you exhale around a kilo of carbon every day, more if you exercise a lot. Plants need it to grow, so it’s actually not harmful to us, in an everyday sense, at all.
What are harmful though are nasty little things called particulate emissions. These microscopic specs of dust and soot are a by-product of burning petrol or diesel, and they are what causes smog, what eats away and stains the frontages of old building and, rather more worryingly, what kills us.
In fact, across the EU, it’s estimated that air pollution caused by these particulates is responsible for as many as 406,000 deaths annually, and costs the European economy as much as €940-billion every year, depending on whose research you believe. It’s a staggering loss of life and a near-equally staggering level of expense. So what can be done about it?
Well, we’re actually already doing something and that’s fitting particulate traps to our cars. We may grump and complain about such devices when they clog up, go wrong and cause an expensive visit to the dealers, but the fact is that they’re saving lives. They’re not good enough though, and the stringent rules laid out in EuroVI and EuroVII are going to force car makers to fit ever more clever and advanced particulate traps, as well as finding new solutions to reduce the amount of soot and grime created at the point of ignition.
All of which means cost, significant cost. So much so that car makers are currently scrambling to create petrol-engined cars that are vastly more efficient than once they were, so that when the cost of buying a diesel car soars, as it will do, there is a more affordable alternative.
Joe BakajJoe Bakaj, head of product development for Ford of Europe, said, “The costs of meeting the Euro 6 and expected Euro 7 pollution regulations would be a major problem, as would the possibility of reduced petrol refining capacity in Europe. This would force up the price of diesel, a by-product of the process.”
Actually, the problem doesn’t stop there. A recent piece of investigation by environmental lobby group Transport & Environment found that petrol engines, especially those worth high-pressure direct fuel injection (which is most of them, now) can be just as bad for particulates, if not worse.
“Vehicle tests show that without the use of gasoline particulate filters (GPF) the number of particles emitted from gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines is likely to exceed future European emissions limits, known as Euro 6 standards” said T&E’s report. “Nowadays, particle emissions from these new petrol engines are higher than equivalent diesel vehicles. The cost of a filter to eliminate particle emissions is low (around €40), with no fuel economy penalty. Despite this, car makers are delaying fitting filters on GDI cars and in-stead rely on manipulating tests. Their reluctance is worsening urban air pollution and reducing the health benefits of the new limits.”
Incidentally, that €40 estimate per vehicle is something of a notional figure. If these petrol emissions filters have to be developed, the car industry has estimated that the cost per vehicle is anywhere between €40 and €130. While that may not sound like much on top of the price of, say, a €20,000 family car, the per vehicle cost is not the full story. For cars with massive production numbers, those individual costs require massive up-front investment, and given the state in which the European car industry currently finds itself, there’s going to be no car maker able to absorb the cost of such investment; it will be passed straight on to you and I in the purchase price.
So, as we said at the start. It’s great that 2014 is looking better for car sales, but if you want something nice, better get your order in now, before the prices start going way, waaaay up.
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