Downbeat diesel: on Maruti Suzuki phasing out diesel cars

The decision taken by Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest passenger vehicle manufacturer, to eliminate diesel models from April 1, 2020, when the Bharat Stage VI emission standard is introduced, mirrors emerging global trends. Although diesel has powered India’s commercial transport segment for decades, its fortunes are declining for several reasons, beginning with the narrowing of the price differential with petrol. It has lost its shine in Europe, the world’s biggest market for diesel cars where sales of even well-known marques have fallen during 2018 by 20%. In a variety of mandated and suggestive ways, car-owners are being nudged towards petrol and alternative fuels. The diesel emissions data scandal involving carmaker Volkswagen dismayed many consumers. Given the prevailing economics and diesel’s reputation as a dirty fuel that adds to pollution from cars, buses and freight vehicles, auto companies see a weak business case to upgrade them. Maruti Suzuki’s decision makes it clear that in spite of being a strong past performer, this fuel is riding into the sunset as far as the personal vehicle is concerned. This outcome should be welcomed for the positive impact it will have on air quality and public health.

Automotive emissions, especially in congested cities, have risen due to steady economic growth, proliferation of vehicles and more vehicle kilometres travelled. In Delhi, for instance, the effect of shifting the three-wheeler and bus fleet to Compressed Natural Gas during a four-year period from 1998 improved air quality, but the gains were quickly negated by a rise in overall vehicle numbers, especially those run on diesel, besides a rise in other sources of pollution. Marking the steady deterioration in air quality, one study found that people on the road in Delhi had 1.5 times greater exposure to the city’s average ambient air pollution level. Diesel emissions pose hidden hazards, too. Besides the harmful fine and ultra fine particulates that they contain, the vehicular exhaust adds to ground-level ozone formed from nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons combining in the presence of sunlight, seriously harming respiratory health. The national plan to shift to higher quality BS VI grade fuels may offer some mitigation of pollution, but that can only be a respite. Improving air quality in the cities requires a transformative planning approach guided by the singular objective of reducing the use of polluting vehicles. Such a policy would prioritise less-polluting and alternative fuels for vehicles, but more important, encourage walking, cycling and using public transport. This is the direction that many world cities are taking. Paris, Madrid and Athens have announced a prohibition on diesel vehicles by 2025, while London has made it more expensive for older vehicles to enter the city. India has to chart its own equitable and accessible green path.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 8:34:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/downbeat-diesel/article26974276.ece

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