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Europe Is Dead Serious About Killing Off Diesel Cars

Crippling tolls, massive fines for emissions cheats, and outright bans will help improve air quality.

A European effort to get diesel cars off city streets in order clean up urban air continues apace.

While diesel cars aren’t particularly prevalent in the U.S., they’re prized for their fuel efficiency in Europe, where pump prices are far higher. But even though they sip fuel, they also produce far larger quantities of soot and nitrogen oxides compared to gasoline-powered engines. In fact, they’re a major contributor to the declining air quality around the globe that kills over three million people each year.

Europe is taking note. Ever since 2015, when Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” automobiles were found to be nothing of the sort, European officials have taken a strong stance against cars that use the fuel. The latest move came today, as the European parliament voted to introduce new regulations that will allow it to fine car manufacturers more than $30,000 per vehicle if they’re found to have been cheating on emissions tests.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, also announced today that the city will begin to enforce steep levies on the most polluting diesel vehicles. Ars Technica has a very thorough description of the new rules, but the upshot is that some cars will have to pay the equivalent of $30 to enter the city on a weekday starting in April 2019 and no new diesel-powered taxis will be licensed for use on the streets as of January 2018. Initially the scheme will apply to central London, but the plan is expected to quickly spread to cover the rest of the city.

Meanwhile, the British government is expected to announce new plans to curb diesel use in 35 other towns and cities around the country. It's thought that those plans will completely limit access in some locations and charge drivers for using their vehicles in other urban centers.

The U.K.’s initiatives follow a clampdown announced late last year by the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City, who all committed to banning diesel cars and vans from their centers by 2025. That decision was motivated mainly by air quality, but officials also noted at the time that it would have positive impacts on the climate.

Aggressive policy measures like these will also help accelerate adoption of hybrids and electric vehicles, because there's nothing like facing large levies to spur an upgrade. In fact, regulatory-driven approaches to encouraging electric vehicle use are expected to drive adoption far faster than by simply relying on consumer choice.

Off the back of the European parliament's vote, the European Union’s industry commissioner said that she expects diesel cars to "disappear much faster than we can imagine." It looks like she might be right.

(Read more: The Guardian, Ars Technica, Auto Express,Four Huge Cities Are Banning Diesel Cars,” “Here’s How to Speed Up the Electric-Car Revolution,” “Global Air Pollution Is Getting Worse, but Removing It Could Worsen Climate Change”)

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