As a ninth Volkswagen employee has been charged in the US over VW’s use of a diesel cheat device for emissions tests, new VW boss Herbert Diess – because they’re getting through them – has said, with mastery of understatement: “It’s due in part to us that diesel has wrongfully fallen into disrepute.” Ja. No kidding, Herbert.
It’s something they might be particularly ruing in Solihull and Sunderland, where the downturn in diesel sales (demand in March was down by more than a third on the same month last year) has hit Land Rover and Nissan so hard that 1000 contract staff will be laid off at the former, and ‘hundreds’ are expected to go at the latter.
Nissan has the consolation that, in the Juke and Qashqai, it is making cars on Wearside that can “transition to a new range of powertrains”. The natural life cycle of its models is part of its downturn, the next Leaf will production volumes to recover. But none of these things will be of consolation if you end up jobless.
Land Rover, meanwhile, is not alone in making cars for which ‘powertrain transitioning’ is not so straightforward. It makes cars that diesels suit best.
Hauling, towing, long-range commuting. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an SUV or a family estate car: sitting on a motorway burning small amounts of fuel is the kind of thing that diesels are best at. Electricity can do what a short-range petrol can do. It can’t do what a long-range diesel can. And a lot of us who need the latter don’t have the luxury of two vehicles.
Many people don’t have a complete understanding about the respective advantages and disadvantages of different powertrains, and some of them are in charge of cities and can make policy on a whim about what you can and can’t drive in and out of their towns. This is the backdrop, the mindset, to which VW has fostered and exposed car owners – and car makers – by painting manufacturers as hooky and diesel as the enemy.
You know when you give someone a lift and they fall asleep in the passenger seat? Well, maybe you don’t, but it goes like this: you’re driving somebody somewhere, and they fall asleep. Then they wake up and say “Oh, sorry, I totally dozed off”, as if sleeping is something to apologise for. Perhaps it’s rude to do it in a car. Who knows? Anyway, I don’t mind, I say, because I figure that if somebody is relaxed enough to fall asleep while you’re driving, they must trust it and you must be pretty smooth, and be making easy, graceful progress.
Until, that is, last week, when I found myself as a passenger with somebody who was not a brilliant driver. Not bad, certainly not dangerous, just a bit clumsy; reactive rather than proactive, poor lane choice, you know the thing. It was like watching someone trying to work out a puzzle that you know the answer to. The sort of thing some people turn into a game show. It was generally painful to sit and watch.
Anyway, I thought: ‘I know. I’ll close my eyes. Perhaps I can make this into a snooze.’ And then thought: ah. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pleased when people doze off while I’m driving.