Discrepancies between best and worst diesel cars reaches record high

The first diesel vehicle that met the regulated Euro 6 limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx) on our real-world EQUA Index (www.equaindex.com) test using a Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS) was in May 2013. Of the vehicles we tested in that year, the cleanest 10% of diesels emitted 265 mg/km and the dirtiest 10% emitted 1777 mg/km – a ratio of 7 to 1. In 2017, the cleanest 10% achieved an impressive 32 mg/km, but the dirtiest 10% were 1020 mg/km, a ratio of 32 to 1.

On average, progress has certainly been made, with average diesel NOx emissions having fallen from 812 mg/km to 364 mg/km from Euro 5 to Euro 6, or a 55% reduction, driven by the prospect of the new Real Driving Emissions (RDE) regulations together with the aftermath of dieselgate. The very worst vehicles have now disappeared from the new car market. It is also true that in around 10 years’ time, the majority of diesels on the road are likely to be of the cleaner variety, through natural turnover of the fleet.

We have now tested six of the latest RDE-compliant diesel vehicles, also known as ‘Euro 6d-temp’. Their average NOx emissions were 48 mg/km, 40% below the regulated limit itself, and 71% below the effective limit once the Conformity Factor of 2.1 is taken into account. (As ever, it should be noted that while the EQUA Index test is broadly similar to an RDE test, it is not strictly compliant.) However, it should be noted that there are many cleaner diesels even before RDE, with 30 prior models achieving real-world emissions of 80 mg/km or less.

While this sounds like good news, the elongated transition to RDE, and growing spread from the best to the worst, are creating a growing policy and consumer choice problem in the meantime. A vehicle in the highest-emitting decile today will likely be a significant contributor to urban NO2 pollution. Yet, the cleanest diesels are getting close to the average NOx emissions from new gasoline vehicles, which is 36 mg/km. Without the contemporary data to show this, policy makers would be forgiven for simply banning all diesels from urban locations.

The lowest NOx emission recorded so far this year is the 2017 model year Mercedes CLS, with selective catalytic reduction after-treatment and type-approved for 6d-temp, which recorded 15 mg of NOx per km.

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