Great fuel debate - the case for diesel

An electric Nissan Leaf being charged

An electric Nissan Leaf being charged. Drivers believe electric cars will outnumber diesels on UK roads by 2030, a survey of 12,500 drivers polled for the AA suggests. - Credit: PA

Continuing the debate about diesel v petrol v electric cars, as part of my balanced and objective look at this subject, I put forward: Diesel – the case for the defence. 

Car ownership figures in the West Country indicate that more than 40 per cent are diesel powered, just over 50 per cent are petrol and under 10 per cent electric. This is in keeping with the national statistics. 

This excludes all the independent trades persons with their vans and trucks and 4x4s, which are mostly diesel powered.

The press are hounding owners of older diesel cars as urban polluters whereas, in fact, diesel ownership has contributed to lower CO2 emissions than petrol.

The issue is with Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) levels which are more prevalent in older diesels and associated particulate emissions. 

Consider the diesel car of 20-30 years ago. These were slow, noisy smokey old Joe’s. Not any longer.

The industry has improved beyond all measure and now diesel cars are quiet, smooth, powerful and vastly better on mpg than petrol equivalents.

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Diesel is a simple heavy oil derived from crude oil whereas the complexity of petrol refining is quite different.

For every barrel of crude, our cars go further on diesel than petrol and, therefore, use less of our fossil fuel reserves.

The difference in fuel economy between petrol and diesel engines is quite dramatic.

As a rough rule of thumb diesel cars use an average of 15-20 per cent less fuel than their petrol-powered counterparts – most noticeably on long motorway trips.

Using less fuel means that diesel engines also produce less carbon dioxide (CO2), a key contributor to the ongoing threat of climate change.

We rely heavily on diesel power.

Consider the following: Fire engines, ambulances, buses, police/prison vans, coastguard 4x4s, RNLI lifeboats, AA/RAC recovery trucks, delivery vans and all HGV lorries, dustcarts, road sweepers, fishing fleets, HM naval surface vessels, tractors, farm equipment, pumps, heaters, generators, air conditioners, plant hire, diggers, dumpers, the list is endless.

Our railways have been powered by the good old Intercity 125 for 40 years now, and as with many other trains, these are diesel powered.

The new Hitachi hybrid train relies on diesel generators for power in our region. 

Passenger ferries and most pleasure craft likewise.

It’s diesel for good reason. Petrol cannot provide the low revving output and torque - twisting power - that diesel combustion provides, necessary to propel 40 tonne HGVs at 60mph.

Diesel is also far safer at sea than petrol and will run for hours on end with little maintenance. 

Diesel engines even work on old cooking oil if required!

To get your goods ordered online from China will involve fork lift trucks, delivery vans, cranes, the ship itself - all powered by diesel.

Container ships are the most-efficient way to move goods with ultra low tonne/per mile fuel costs.

Then all that is repeated again this end until the diesel van arrives at your doorstep.

Motor manufacturers are working hard to reduce NOx and to capture other particulates, so expect further improvements.

Auto stop/start in traffic now reduces urban pollution considerably.

However, diesel engines excel on long haul and motorway routes, with economy, reliability and range, managing a 650-mile journey without refuelling. 

Even the best and most expensive electric Teslas and Jaguars barely manage 250 miles. 

Studies show that pure electric powered cars also constantly distract the driver with diminishing range and battery percentage displays, with suggested diversions to re-charging points.

When battery power nears expiry, these vehicles slow up and then just stop.

Towing a flat battery car results in damage to the motors so necessitates emergency roadside assistance.  

When it comes to long-distance usage, electric-powered vehicles are not there yet, notwithstanding the national shortage of capacity and re-charging points nor the range phobia in customers.

There is also something inherently inefficient about lugging half-a-ton of batteries around with you all day.

For anything other than local driving, diesel does it for me. I rest my case!