Diesel was a niche market in Europe until the mid-1990s, making up less than 10% of the car fleet. The sales of diesel cars have now overtaken those of petrol cars in the UK and the same trend can be found in Europe.
Diesels produce 15% less CO2 than petrol, but emit four times more nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2) and 22 times more particulates - the tiny particles that penetrate the lungs, brain and heart.
Japanese and American carmakers backed research into hybrid and electric cars, but the European commission was lobbied strongly by big German carmakers BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, to incentivise diesel. A switch to diesel was said by the industry to be a cheap and fast way to reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change.
Only a year ago the European Commission started legal proceedings against the UK for failing to address high levels of urban air pollution.
In particular, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), an emission strongly linked to major respiratory illnesses and premature deaths, are considered "excessive" in many urban areas across the UK. In addition to aggravating existing health conditions such as asthma, research shows air pollution causes around 29,000 premature deaths in the UK every year.
At that time a test of real-world emissions found that 7 out of the 10 cars tested did not meet any of the European standards. It was reported that the UK has some of the worst NO2 levels in Europe.
So the VW scandal comes as no surprise. It has been widely reported, for some considerable time, that most cars do not reach any of the standards advertised by the manufacturers.
Yet we are still incentivised to buy these high polluters through lower taxation and fuel prices.
The oil companies and manufacturers of diesel cars are holding back the take-up of Zero emission vehicles. Is it now time for the Isle of Man government to provide incentives for the cleaner alternative – all Electric Vehicles? Should they also take a long hard look at how their aspiration to reduce emissions is being undermined by the car manufacturer's spurious claims regarding emissions from diesel and petrol cars?
Sources: Next Greencar, The Guardian.