Yesterday was a bad day for the iconic White Van Man. A wealthy member of the Labour party’s shadow cabinet tweeted a picture which appeared to mock a house festooned in England flags and which had a large Transit van on the drive.
Although the shadow minister resigned within hours of the errant tweet, it did much to reinforce the idea that Middle England’s White Van stereotype was one that could be openly laughed at.
So if WVM is feeling unloved by the metropolitan elite this morning, things might be about to take a turn for the worse. As we report today, a European Court of Justice ruling has dramatically brought forward the likelihood of ‘ultra low emission zones’ being created in Britain’s most densely trafficked urban areas, which would almost certainly sweep nearly all pre-2009 diesel vehicles off the road.
I admit that it seems highly unlikely. Simply outlawing the backbone of Britain’s commercial transport network with a couple of years’ notice is too ridiculous to even entertain.
But it could happen. The UK’s Supreme Court has been ordered by the European Court of Justice to force the Government to rapidly address air pollution, which, in many places in the UK, is well over EU-mandated limits.
While I entirely sympathise with any White Van People who might, by now, be fuming at ‘European’ meddling in the UK’s affairs, I fear this is one of the few times the EU’s attentions have been welcome. There’s no doubt that we have to get a grip on diesel-fired pollution.
There again, this situation is thanks to the European Union’s utterly inexcusable failure to get a grip on the problems of diesel power much earlier.
The US and Japan has long had a distaste for diesel and the associate pollution, which is shown clearly in the graphic (compiled by Bosch) accompanying our news story. In the US Clean Air laws – which covered all types of pollutants – came in with force for cars back in1975.
Europe, by contrast had a happier relationship with diesel, which originally became popular in the 1970s because of the engine’s simplicity and longevity.
But 25 years ago, as fuel prices rose and the climate change lobby began to get real leverage. Although legislation for catalytic convertors had finally seen them becoming standard fit across the EU, Co2 output went to the top of the Euro-agenda.
Diesel seemed like a perfect solution: more performance and much better economy than petrol engines. Everybody was happy. By the 2000s, Co2 had become synonymous with ‘pollution’, even though it is locally harmless.
This Autocar news story from 2006 shows just how much CO2 became the ‘evil gas’ when, ironically, a large-engined petrol vehicle of the type being targeted was probably one of less polluting vehicles in the capital.
Although we did have the highly sensible EU-ratings system for engine pollutants, it seems that the Eurocrats and scientists dropped the ball massively.
While, say EU4, demanded a certain ex-factory performance in terms of pollutants leaving the exhaust pipe, many think these tests are hopelessly inadequate in real-world driving conditions. More seriously, it seems that as a diesel engines wears, it becomes much more polluting.
This is hardly White Van Man’s fault. He has no choice but to drive a diesel van, because clean-burning LPG and CNG fuels were never promoted as encouraged by the authorities, as they should have been.
Now we are in the position of having at least 15million diesel vehicles on the roads, which are polluting now and bound to get worse with time (aside, for example, from engines like Volvo’s Drive-E which have self-adjusting injectors).
And if White Van Man blames the politicians, the Eurocrats and the one-dimensional pressure groups for this mess, he’d be dead right.