7 Reasons Diesel Cars Dominate in Europe
Diesel cars have been steadily gaining traction in America. In 2015, there were 7.4 million diesel-powered passenger vehicles on the roads, representing roughly 3% of the 250 million passenger vehicles in the country.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the story is quite different. By some estimates, diesel cars account for 55% of passenger vehicles, making it the dominant technology in Europe. Seven reasons help explain this phenomenon:
- Air quality policies. Historically, European emission regulations have been less stringent than American standards, focusing primarily on carbon dioxide (CO2). Because diesel engines emit lower levels of CO2 than gas engines, these regulations encouraged car makers and buyers to invest in diesel technology.
- Fuel costs. While fuel prices vary, European diesel tends to cost 15% to 20% less than gasoline on average.
- Fuel taxes. In America, diesel fuel is taxed at a higher rate than gasoline, but in Europe it’s the opposite. Both fuels are heavily taxed, but diesel is taxed at a lower rate, making it more affordable at the pump.
- Fuel efficiency. The average diesel car is 20% to 40% more fuel efficient than a comparable gas-powered vehicle. This translates into more miles per gallon, fewer trips to the fuel pump and lower prices compared to gasoline, all of which make diesel more desirable for the average driver.
- Faster payback. The higher fuel prices common throughout Europe make the prospect of day-to-day fuel savings exceedingly attractive. According to some analyses, the average European driver can in two years recoup enough at the pump to offset the higher purchase price of a diesel car.
- Home court advantage. While other carmakers are slowly entering the diesel arena, Europe the historic center of diesel car production. European policies made diesels more affordable and desirable, a practical way to ensure buyers were motivated to purchase cars produced at home rather than abroad.
- Testing standards. In the past, European carmakers were only required to conduct laboratory tests under controlled conditions. Test results were accepted at face value with little or no verification from independent sources or government agencies, according to several sources.
Diesel is likely to continue to dominate in Europe for now, but changes are in the wind. In September 2015, new Europe-wide emission standards were implemented. These regulations established stricter criteria for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, a harmful pollutant produced by diesel fuel during combustion.
In addition, new regulations for the 2017 model year beefed up testing standards, requiring European carmakers to conduct road tests and submit emissions data that reflects real world as well as controlled laboratory performance. How these changes will affect the European preference for diesel cars remains to be seen.