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Diesel Auto Sales Trending to Exceed Gasoline in Europe in 2006

Sales of new diesel cars in Europe continue to increase.

The latest quarterly pricing survey by Pricewaterhouse Coopers and finds that diesels accounted for 49% (7,415,198 units) of the total European car market at the end of 2005. That represents a 7% increase in annual sales volume over the prior period.

Diesel is now set to overtake gasoline as the primary fuel for new passenger vehicles in Europe during 2006 as buyers look for more fuel-efficient options.

Although diesel car sales will undoubtedly outstrip those of petrol in the coming year, the debate continues on the ultimate level of penetration they will achieve. They could potentially achieve 55-60% of the total market but the extra costs of making diesels to meet tougher emissions requirements means buyers will still have to pay a premium over petrol versions.

Fuel prices will be another factor. Demand for diesel models tends to be higher in markets where there is the largest price difference between petrol and diesel. Varying levels of diesel fuel taxation between countries will always be a constraint.

—Chris Hibbs, UK Automotive leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Although overall the price of diesel was 8% less than that of gasoline, in the UK, which showed an 8% gain in diesel sales, the price of diesel was 5% higher than gasoline.

Prices for diesel cars continued to rise more quickly (by 3.5% a year) compared with those for gasoline cars (3.2%) in the final quarter of 2005, although the overall rate of price increases slowed as sales weakened.

European Diesel Sales
Country Diesel sales
Oct 04–Sep 05
% Total market % Change sales Diesel fuel price vs. gasoline
Belgium 349,545 72% 3% -19%
France 1,449,381 70% 6% -12%
Spain 1,137,162 68% 9% -7%
Austria 205,870 66% -4% -6%
Portugal 118,850 62 11% -17%
Italy 1,337,162 59% 2% -8%
Germany 1,441,577 43% 6% -12%
United Kingdom 873,121 36% 8% 5%
Norway 36,195 34% 29% -5%
Poland 77,312 31% -17% -3%
Czech Republic 36,829 28% -10% -1%
Switzerland 73,414 28% 11% 9%
The Netherlands 125,279 26% 9% -24%
Denmark 32,719 25% 21% -11%
Ireland 36,917 21% 30% 1%
Finland 22,802 17% 2% -17%
Hungary 35,229 17% 29% 3%
Sweden 21,635 9% 6% -4%
Greece 4,039 1% -56% -3%
Total 7,415,198 49% 7% -8%



I have been under the impression that although diesel achieves significantly better efficiency (mpg or km/l) it's not possible to burn diesel as cleanly as gasoline: one always winds up with soot, or if burned with excess air, then NOx. Gasoline, on the other hand, leaves only vapor HC and CO, which can react cleanly with NOx in catalytic converters to emit almost nothing except CO2 and water.

Is this true, and if not, can someone please clarify? I'm trying to understand the environmental tradeoffs with burning diesel, and whether or not this European trend is a "good thing".


[q->t to email]

Lance Funston

Something must have happened in Greece on the regulatory front... Diesels dropped off dramatically.


Without catalytic converters Diesel emits much more particulates and NOx. But catalytic converters fix that.


Adam - although your premise is generally correct, if you look at emissions "certification" data, a Tier 1 VW Jetta TDI (diesel) actually emits much less NMHC emissions than a "PZEV" Jetta gas model does if you consider "upstream" or evaporative emissions from fuel transfer and refueling. CO emissions are about half that of the PZEV gas model also. Biodiesel would make these differences even more pronounced.

PM and NOx emissions are much higher, of course, but the "weekend ozone effect" studies have cast considerable doubt on the effectiveness of the regulatory assault on


Adam: it depends what you mean by "burn cleanly". If you mean combustion of fuel to CO2 and H2O, diesel is much more efficient. From a NOx perspective a modern diesel is also at least as clean as a modern gas engine without a catalytic converter. The problem is that diesel exhaust is oxidizing (diesels run with an excess of oxygen, gasoline engines run near stoichiometric) and diesel fuel in the US has too much sulfur, making 2-way catalytic treatment of the exhaust more difficult. The second of these problems will be mandated out this year; now that high sulfur diesel is being phased out, the first of these should be fixed soon as well (Mercedes Benz just announced Bluetec, eg)

Diesels put out more soot and coarse particles than gas engines, although that should change soon as diesel particulate filters are starting to come online, at least in Europe. Fine particles are a different issue, and neither diesel nor gasoline do particularly well here. Filters will help trap exhaust particulates, but will do nothing to solve secondary aerosol, as those are formed from gaseous precursors. It's not yet known which is worse in this respect, but I'd guess gasoline (at least after we go to ULSD): it has a higher vapor pressure, and gas engines have higher VOC emissions.

Catalytic converters have been a huge help but of course do not work with perfect efficiency. It's only been recently that we've realized that cars are a significant part of the increase in N2O, a greenhouse gas (not the same as NO2, an air quality pollutant), because the reduction of NOx in a catalytic converter, while efficient, is not perfect. Catalytic converters also do not work very well until they reach operating temperature, that is, on short trips.

Right now, gasoline engines are cleaner with respect to air quality, because of the cat; diesel engines are cleaner with respect to climate, because of their efficiency. A gasoline hybrid will be cleaner wrt air quality and similar with respect to climate; biodiesel shifts the climate advantage back to diesel. Nothing is perfect, although the best near-term solution may be just around the corner, with Citroen and others annnouncing diesel hybrids, and MB announcing 2-way cats and DPFs for diesel.


Lance Funston

Nothing new has happened to Greece. Diesels are prohibited to enter cities, so no one buys them. Only commercial vehicles can have diesel engines.


Fundamentally European emissions regulations are slightly less strict on NOx than the US and fuel economy is much more of an issue. Auto manufacturers assoications in Europe(ACEA)have voluntarily signed up to reduce fleet CO2 targets for 2008 (140g/km) and into the future. They're not lobbying to PREVENT changes they're volunteering to make them.....

Fuel economy is just much more important over here. Hence a lot of people drive modern diesels.

Contrast and compare a modern European Diesel eg a Ford 2.2Turbo in a Mondeo (Contour in US) with the gasoline version and you'll see why.

Also unless you've driven a modern common rail diesel, you'll not realise how much of a huge advance over previous mechanically injected versions they represent for driveability, performance, emissions and NVH.


Biodiesel significantly reduces soot in older diesel vehicles.

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