Will diesel and petrol car bans kill the auto industry?

<i>Image: iStock</i>
<i>Image: iStock</i>

The UK and France have put plans in motion to eliminate petrol and diesel cars by 2040 in a bid to improve air quality.

In July 2017, the UK announced it will ban the sale of petrol and diesel-engine cars from 2040 due to the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide polluting the air.

While these bans are still largely conceptual, it’s suspected that they will make both the private and professional sale of pure petrol and diesel cars illegal (while owning and driving the cars will remain legal).

Diesel in decline?

Sales of diesel vehicles also tell a story, specifically in Europe. Sales of diesel cars in Europe were sharply down in 2017 sparking concern that the decline in second-hand values would lead to a total collapse of the diesel vehicle market. Mounting pressure on international car makers to meet imminent European emissions standards for new vehicles is also foretelling the fast-tracking of the demise of these engines.

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OEMs have long accepted that petrol and diesel-powered vehicles are a dying breed, and that the need for car ownership is diminishing, says Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Automotive.

Osborne said: "The ban is neither ridiculous nor ambitious, as critics and supporters claims. I'd be hard-pressed to name a manufacturer that hasn't yet added a hybrid or electric model to their assembly line. I don't think anyone in Europe was expecting to sell conventional petrol cars by 2040. Whether South Africa will implement their own ban in the future remains to be seen, but there will be repercussions for the local industry, to be certain."

Cars and car parts remain one of our largest exports and automakers will have to adapt or die, says Osborne.

"The local manufacturing industry will change dramatically within the next two decades, but the local energy industry will have to follow suit or it will be an exercise in futility. We are electricity-poor as it stands and unfortunately, unless we are weaned entirely off nuclear and coal-power in twenty years, mass adoption of electric vehicles will not be as carbon efficient as we would like.

"We also have to wonder what the cost of running such a vehicle will be, as electricity costs continue to climb. Certainly, mass global production of electric and hybrid vehicles will lower the price of the vehicles themselves – which has been a barrier for buyers in the past – but there are more factors to consider in the South African market."

The UK government's plan already includes mass investment towards retrofitting, low-emission taxis and financial plug-in benefits for consumers, as well as building convenient low cost charging stations.

"The switch to zero emission cars cannot come from the autos industry alone. Government will have to step in and step up. If you really want to lower carbon emissions, cities will need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars. We will need a safe and efficient mass transit system, cheap and available parking in cities and incentives for cyclists and pedestrians if we want to affect change."

Pure petrol and diesel cars will become obsolete. "Whether South Africa will be ready for that obsolescence remains to be seen," says Osborne.

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