Diesel Cars Fall out of Favor

  • By Ryu Jung, Gwak Rae-geon

    August 25, 2018 08:27

    Diesel cars are fast falling out of favor in the developed world as scandals reveal that "clean" diesel was a chimera and the cheaper price of the fuel brings numberless drawbacks.

    Hyundai announced earlier this month that will stop production of four diesel versions of the popular Grandeur and Sonata sedans. "The popularity of diesel cars is waning due to the growth of hybrid and electric cars and other environmentally friendly vehicles," a Hyundai staffer said, "We're simply following the global trend."

    Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Porsche, Volkswagen and Toyota have started cutting back on production of diesel cars. The decisive event was Volkswagen's emissions-rigging scandal that exposed the illusion of "clean" diesel.

    Contributing to the negative publicity is the apparently unending cases of BMW diesel sedans catching fire spontaneously. However, some foreign automakers continue to market diesel cars aggressively in Korea.

    Just three years ago, diesel cars had somehow acquired the image of being eco-friendly as well as cheaper to run. Touted for emitting less carbon dioxide than gasoline cars, they even received benefits from some governments.

    But that was due to the development of new gadgets that allegedly reduced the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions. The Korean government authorized the sale of diesel cars in 2005 and began offering incentives, causing the market to burgeon.

    But once it became clear that Volkswagen had been cheating on a massive scale to falsify emission test results, the house of cards crumbled. On top of that, jitters spread among drivers over suspicions that faulty exhaust gas recirculation modules meant to reduce emissions in BMWs were actually causing the fires.

    Now Fiat Chrysler, Porsche and Volkswagen plan to halt all diesel car production by 2022. Progressive Sweden's Volvo will end production of all internal combustion engine cars from 2019 and focus only on electric vehicles, while Nissan and Toyota announced early this year that they will no longer produce diesel cars.

    Some European cities are barring diesel cars from their limits. Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, began allowing diesel cars to be driven only in select areas in April, and Copenhagen, Denmark plans to ban diesel cars in 2019. Rome plans to follow suit in 2024.

    In Korea, the proportion of diesel cars out of total vehicles sold peaked at a staggering 45 percent in 2015 but has now fallen to about 35 percent. For imports the situation is worse. The proportion of imported diesel cars peaked at 68.8 percent in 2015, dropped to 40 percent in January this year following the sales bans slapped on Volkswagen and Audi, but rebounded to 50 percent from April to June after Volkswagen and Audi were allowed to resume sales of diesel cars in Korea.

    Even while announcing their break from diesel cars outside Korea, Volkswagen and Audi are stepping up marketing for them in Korea by offering big discounts. Lee Hang-koo at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade said, "Automakers want to flog as many diesel cars as possible to get rid of inventory and make up for their loss of revenue. Korea still has relatively lax regulations and is seen as a prime market."

    The proportion of diesel cars is higher in Korea's import market than in Europe (44 percent last year), the birthplace of "clean" diesel cars. In the U.S., diesel cars account for only 0.7 percent of all cars.

    Volkswagen tried to target the U.S. market and boosted the proportion to 17 percent in 2014, but that soon dropped after the emissions scandal.

    Kim Pil-soo at Daelim University said, "Globally, the era of diesel cars has ended. The Korean government needs to keep up with the latest trends and revise its policies."

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