Motoring: Green machine that deserves a black reputation - Motoring - Life and Style - The Independent

Motoring: Green machine that deserves a black reputation

A FORTHCOMING government report will confirm what almost everybody - except European car- makers and environmentalists - has long suspected: diesel cars are dirty. It's not only that you can smell the filth being pumped from the exhaust of a poorly tuned diesel vehicle, taxi or bus - you can also see it: the thick black soot that stains buildings, clogs lungs and, it is alleged by many, causes cancer.

For the past few years, though, diesel has been championed by an unlikely alliance of car-makers and environmental groups. Some environmentalists, citing the lower fuel consumption, have pointed to small, frugal diesel cars as the way ahead. And some European manufacturers, keen to push their environmental credentials - however mendaciously - have launched an advertising blitz on 'diesel is greener' lines. It has worked: diesels now account for about a fifth of new car sales in Britain, and the number is growing. Sales are booming on the Continent, too.

The Department of the Environment report, to be published in the autumn, apparently criticises diesels for their much higher levels of oxides of nitrogen, which can cause respiratory problems, compared with catalysed petrol cars. It also examines the carcinogenic properties of the fuel. For many years there have been allegations that the soot emitted by diesel cars can cause cancer.

Europe is the only major car market in the world where diesel sales are strong. In America even the low level of sales collapsed in the early Eighties, partly because of the difficulty in meeting Californian emission regulations, and partly because petrol is so cheap. In Japan, diesel has never caught on. Most of the major manufacturers there feel that the engine has no future.

But European manufacturers - especially the French - have been lobbying for greater tax advantages for diesel cars in all EC countries (in France and Italy, there is already a huge difference). They cite environmental benefits, but should fool nobody. If most Europeans bought diesel cars, Japan's challenge to the European market would be crippled.

To be fair to the French, they do build good diesel cars, and the best derv-drinkers of today are much better than those of even five years ago. The best French diesel cars are closer than ever to their petrol counterparts, in performance, quietness and smoothness.

Yet being almost as good as a petrol car to drive - and no matter how it is phrased, that is the best anyone has been able to say about diesels - does not seem a great commendation. Diesels are inherently rougher, noisier and less powerful. No amount of work by French engineers will overcome these drawbacks. They usually cost more to buy. True, they use less fuel, but when you look, smell or touch the stuff - and motorcyclists and bicyclists are forever falling off on spillages - the less frequent refuelling is often cancelled out by the sheer awfulness of the job.

LAST MONTH'S column, about my pet dislikes with modern cars - 'Faults that make me fume' - sparked more passion than anything I've written before. Plenty seems to annoy you about modern cars. A few examples:

Jane Hurley of Teignmouth, Devon, was not the only reader to criticise the difficulty in buying a car that can feed warm air to the feet and cool air to the face, simultaneously. 'I presume this is because most car designers are men and don't get cold feet in winter.'

John Stagg of London wishes modern cars were as comfortable as his old Austin 1800. 'The seats were set so high that it was not necessary to cripple oneself getting in and, especially, out, of the vehicle. The seats were also built so as not to contort the spine. I assume that modern car drivers like being permanently slumped, or perhaps once again it's those designer guys out to irritate the motorist.'

Eve Abbott of Bristol points out that many women have to move the seat forward to reach the pedals comfortably: 'This often results in being too much 'up under' the steering wheel and the seat belt sawing the side of one's neck.' Mrs Jean Keen of Sheffield says that when the seat is forward, the pedals are often at an awkward angle: 'In some cars, only the tip of my shoe can make contact with the pedal. Ford cars seem to be the worst.'

Valerie Moss of Ealing, west London, is fed up with hubcaps. 'My C-reg Peugeot 309 has lost four so far. It's a real nuisance having to get new ones.' (If car-makers would design decent-looking steel wheels, the damned things would be redundant.)

Many readers complained about the absence of flat surfaces on dashes - an impediment to storing odds and ends. Roger Whitehead of Church Stretton, Shropshire, writes: 'Ideally a flat surface and a lip: do car designers never need to put a book there or have an in-car picnic?' .

Kenneth Johnson of Moor Park, Hertfordshire, loves his Citroen ZX, but is annoyed that whenever the sunroof is open, there is an annoying interior hum. 'You can only cure it by opening the rear windows.' Mr Johnson says that he has had the same problem with earlier cars.

There were complaints about indicators that cancel too soon (especially on roundabouts), vulnerably mounted front number plates, and more. What is interesting is that readers weren't complaining about hi-tech, modern inventions. They are long-standing gripes, which the car industry seems intent to ignore.

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Energy Markets Analyst

    £400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

    Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Nursery Manager

    £22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week