Today, 80% of all cars in France have diesel engines. That’s because diesel fuel in France costs “only” $6.00 a gallon compared to gasoline, which costs $8.00 a gallon or more. Also, diesel-powered cars get better mileage, which is important when your are trying to squeeze the most out of that $6.00 gallon. The French government has been a big proponent of diesel vehicles for a long time.
But now France has decided that diesel engines are major polluters and wants them off the road. According to Just-Auto, Prime Minister Manuel Valls says, “In France, we have long favored the diesel engine. This was a mistake, and we will progressively undo that, intelligently and pragmatically.” The government is putting in place a system that will rank cars by the amount of pollution they emit, which will make it possible for local authorities to limit city access for the dirtiest cars. The government will also offer subsidies to convert older diesel engines to modern standards.
To accomplish its goals, France will use economic incentives. It has raised the tax on diesel fuel by $2.50 per liter – a huge increase. [See correction below} It is also offering buyers a tax credit of 10,000 euros to ditch their current diesel car for an electric vehicle. French citizens have been slow to accept electrics, possible because many of the models available have very limited range. Or maybe its because some of the available options are just goofy, like the bizarre Renault Twizy, which may or may not be an actual car.
France’s dramatic shift in policy calls into question the future of diesel powered cars in general. Here in the US, Volkswagen has found a ready market for its TDI models for a decade or more. Diesel efficiency is looking better and better to manufacturers struggling to meet ever tightening CAFE requirements. Dodge has brought out a diesel powered Ram 1500 to claim top honors in the pickup truck mpg wars. And Mazda is still serious about a diesel powered Mazda6.
Will other countries, particularly the US, follow France’s lead and clamp down on diesel by raising emissions standards and federal taxes on diesel fuel? Stay tuned. France may have just sounded the death knell for Dr. Diesel’s peanut oil powered miracle engine.
Correction: The report in Just-Auto is wrong. My source in France tells me the actual tax increase on diesel fuel is 2 cents now with another 2 cent hike coming in April. That will raise the price at the pump by about 16 cents a gallon by next Spring which is far short of the $2.50 per liter quoted in the Just-Auto story. But still, France is sending consumers a signal that diesel cars will no longer be given favorable treatment by the government.