BRUSSELS – Automakers are fighting French plans to exclude diesel vehicles from the top class of best performers on tailpipe pollution in a color-coded sticker program slated for a Jan. 1, 2016, introduction.
The voluntary green-dot program that French environment minister Ségolène Royal announced June 2 would classify cars according to tailpipe emissions levels, with those in the top class 1, alongside a separate electric-vehicle class, gaining parking and driving concessions, plus access to low-pollution zones in large cities.
But only gasoline cars complying with the European Union’s cleanest emissions norm, Euro 6, would qualify for class 1 stickers, not diesel vehicles that meet the same standard.
Euro 6 is mandatory for all new cars sold in the EU from Sept. 1, with diesel vehicles’ compliance to be measured through a new real-driving emissions test, using roads as well as laboratories.
The green-dot program would be voluntary and place cars in seven classes according to tailpipe emissions – all-electric, then classes 1 through 6:
Class 1 - Euro 5 and 6 gasoline cars first registered since 2011.
Class 2 - Euro 5 and 6 diesel cars first registered since 2011 and Euro 4 gasoline cars sold from 2006 through 2010.
Class 3 - Euro 4 diesel cars registered from 2006 through 2010 and Euro 2 and 3 gasoline cars first sold from 1997 to end 2005.
Class 4 - Euro 3 diesel cars first registered from 2001 through 2005.
Class 5 - Euro 2 vehicles sold 1997 through 2000.
Class 6 - Euro 1 gasoline and diesel cars first registered before Dec. 31, 1996.
The green dot is part of a massive air pollution crackdown as France tackles dangerous nitrogen oxide (NOx), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate emissions levels in large cities, notably Paris. The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, recently started legal infringement proceedings against France, alleging pollution in the country exceeds EU NO2 maximums.
Notably Royal wants to encourage a shift to EVs, both through the green dot and, after April 1, 2016, a planned €10,000 ($11,200) payout for motorists trading in old diesel cars for new electric models.
Both French and European automakers are condemning diesels’ exclusion from category 1. The CCFA association of French automakers is pointing out policy differences between Royal and French President François Hollande, who in a March visit to PSA Peugeot Citroën’s Trémery plant, stressed that high-performance diesel engines were important to meeting greenhouse-gas emissions targets. (Royal is Hollande’s former partner and mother to his four children.)
Diesel Key to Emissions Target, Automakers Say
The EU has an average fleet target of 95 g/km of carbon dioxide for 2021, which automakers say is attainable only if a majority of cars on the road are diesel.
The ACEA group of European automakers in a statement is voicing its “surprise and disappointment” at diesels’ category-1 snub, arguing high-efficiency diesel engines and particulate filters have brought tailpipe emissions “effectively down to zero levels.”
“Policy should be technology-neutral to ensure the uptake of the latest low-emission vehicles. There is no reason to discriminate against clean-diesel technologies,” ACEA secretary-general Erik Jonnaert argues. Royal’s ruling “does not make sense from an environmental or health point of view, and could be detrimental to the mobility of cities and businesses,” he says.
“We share the desire to improve air quality – which will happen as newer, more advanced engines gradually replace older ones,” Jonnaert says. “But doing so at the expense of pushing up CO2 emissions is not the right way forward.”
A French motorists’ organization called 40 million d’automobilistes also is lashing out against the “socially unjust” classification which it says discriminates against poorer car owners who cannot afford to replace older vehicles. The group has launched an online petition against the plans.
But François Cuenot, air quality policy officer at Transport & Environment, a coalition of European non-governmental green organizations, rejects claims diesel cars are as clean as gasoline models.
“Euro 6 diesel cars are still significantly dirtier than Euro 6 gasoline cars in real-world conditions,” he tells WardsAuto. “For example, NOx emissions exceed the legal norm, measured in a laboratory, by an average of seven times in real-world driving conditions. This is not the case for gasoline cars.”
Cuenot urges other countries to follow Royal’s lead, saying: “Excluding dirty diesel will help reduce air pollution in cities and help EU member states to meet their air quality targets. More than half of the member states are under infringement procedures for exceeding air-quality limits.”
Transport & Environment also is skeptical of claims diesel cars are the only way to meet Europe’s CO2 targets.
Cuenot points out the 95 g/km target applies regardless of the technology and type of fuel, and that the price premium between hybrid-electric and diesel cars has fallen to about €500 ($560) for similar vehicles. He says the difference likely will narrow further with the new real-driving emissions test for diesels requiring costlier post-treatment technologies.
“Gasoline hybrids do emit less CO2 than diesel cars for vehicles of a similar size,” Cuenot says.
Nevertheless, the CCFA is optimistic Royal will change her plans to exclude diesel cars from class 1 before the anti-pollution law is finalized this fall, especially in the run-up to December’s global climate talks in Paris.
A CCFA spokesman tells WardsAuto meeting the 95 gkm CO2 target would be “impossible without diesel.” The French automakers’ discussions with the environment ministry have been bolstered by the ACEA’s “very powerful reaction,” and “the ministry can now understand the issue of modern diesel better,” he adds.