At the C40 meeting in Mexico City last week, Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, met with the mayors of Mexico City, Madrid, and Athens, where they agreed to ban diesel cars and trucks from their cities by the year 2025. Although cities like Tokyo have implemented bans in the past, seeing this mandate implemented in traditionally diesel-friendly countries may come as a surprise to automakers that have invested heavily in diesel technology.
For decades, European cities have seen more and more diesel-powered cars and trucks inhabit their roads. Torquey engines proved to be a good match for city driving, and their improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions led consumers and governments alike to favor diesel cars over gas-powered ones. Unfortunately, we’ve known for a while now that although diesel engines’ carbon emissions are relatively low, they produce high levels of equally dangerous nitrogen dioxide, a prominent culprit in air pollution. So-called “clean diesels” were thought to be the solution to this problem, but thanks to some enterprising engineers over at Volkswagen and a team of pesky scientists at West Virginia University, we now know that, as it turns out, even clean diesel isn’t very clean after all.
France, more than most, has historically been a proponent of diesel vehicles. As recently as 2014, nearly 80% of the cars driving French roads were oil-burners, but today even the country of wine and baguettes is looking to change its ways. That 80% dropped to 68% by 2015, and this past October, the French government announced it would be ending a major diesel-use incentive by extending the same tax benefits diesel currently enjoys to gasoline-powered vehicles.
This isn’t the first time Hidalgo has pledged to rid Paris of diesel cars. In 2014, she told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper she wanted to see diesel vehicles banned from paris by 2020. We can assume the 5-year extension in Hidalgo’s mandate has been included to provide Parisians enough forewarning to allow them to prepare for the ban.
Moreover, France and the rest of Europe’s earlier embrace of diesel encouraged automakers to invest heavily in diesel technology. Although Volkswagen has made headlines by not investing quite enough in true clean diesel, companies like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and the United States’s own General Motors all produce compliant oil-burners. This sort of research and development costs serious money, and the abrupt turn away from diesel is sure to rankle the auto industry.
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