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Will Diesels Have A Future In Europe?

Part two of Chris Ellis' The Cars of 2015 and Beyond

By Chris Ellis

To Part One

In my view, we may have reached 'Peak Diesel' already. In fact, natural gas now appears to be the rising star. Want proof?

Consider that sales of diesel cars in France and Germany have started to decline. Europe is becoming much more dependent on natural gas, as oil gets increasingly expensive to extract and world demand continues to grow. Natural gas is being delivered as CNG via pipelines from the lands to the east, and as LNG in tankers from Libya, Dubai, etc. All the major European manufacturers already offer CNG versions of one or more models. Honda is in league with Gaz de France to push its domestic gas refueling system, PHILL. Given the high levels of tax on diesel fuels across Europe, it's little wonder that bus and taxi companies are converting to CNG at a rapid pace, and sales of new diesel taxis and buses are falling away.

The European Commission and most European governments have just started a major push towards biofuels, and we can anticipate aggressive promotion of E85 (or similar) across Europe in order to achieve the demanding targets already set. The success of E85 in Sweden has not gone unnoticed in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Madrid, even if London has only just woken up to its attractions. (See: www.carpages.co.uk/saab/saab-biopower-part-1-01-09-05.asp?switched=on&echo=920660435)

The UK government is beginning to realize the full consequences of the UK's rapid transition from being an oil exporter to becoming as dependent on imports as the US. All those lovely oil revenues gone, gone! Meanwhile, England's wheat farmers, the most efficient in Europe, are pawing the ground, waiting for the government to declare its hand on the level of tax on E85. If the UK government gets it right, diesel will then wither away, in one of the few European countries which is already conforming with the European Union's decision to achieve tax parity between diesel and petrol. Soon, the only reason for buying diesel will be if it costs less per mile than E85. It won't in the UK, and probably not in France, Italy and Spain either.

At last, the Germans (and others) have woken up to the environmental and health problems caused by two generations of 'dirty diesels'. Radical plans to enforce scrapping of older diesel cars are on the table, which are beginning to soften the firm residuals that diesels used to enjoy. As Germany effectively has no government until at least January 2006, and the Greens could swing it either way, the jury's out in Germany. So sales of new diesel-fueled cars could begin to melt away, as the new ultra-frugal, gasoline-direct-injection, small and medium sized cars reach the showrooms, particularly if the Greens insist the new government moves towards fuel tax parity. Then Europe may not have any spare gasoline left to sell the US when the next big hurricane storms in.....

Incidentally, the total population of geographic Europe, which includes Russia west of the Urals, is already over 700 million, well in excess of China's stated objective of 500 million by 2100. That's roughly 50% larger than the total North American market. We've stopped trying to kill each other off. Not a lot of marketeers realize that the potential 'single market' is even bigger. Given that negotiations have already started for Turkey (long a member of NATO) to join the EU around 2015, and that an application from Russia would certainly be welcomed by it's old ally England, the EU may well extend across much of Asia by 2020, and will obviously require a new name. How about 'United Nations (North East)'? Or 'the United Kingdoms of Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Russia, Bavaria, Prussia., etc, etc......'

And then?
It is important (to engineers at least) to make a clear distinction between diesel FUEL (i.e. a fuel derived from the heavier end of petroleum distillation) and compression ignition ENGINES, often referred to as diesels, after their inventor. The heavy distillate of petroleum caught the name from the engines! Put simply, diesel fuel is really 'bad' (our 'not-friends' have most of it, it's carcinogenic, it contributes to Global Warming and the tank is probably half empty already), but compression ignition isn't.

That's why I'm relaxed about Hawaii falling in love with 'diesel' engines, because they are going to compress vegetable oils with them. Provided Hawaii can stay on top of the emission problems, this is a good local defense against the 'three horsemen', Global Warming, Peak Oil and Energy (in)Security. We don't know who or where the fourth horseman is yet, but she sure as heck must be out there, somewhere, waiting to ride in!  
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