Greenpeace posted the video below a few hours ago, showing them illegally boarding a ship, applying stickers on various vehicles pleading VW to ditch diesel and also stealing numerous keys to diesel VWs.

My username might be a giveaway that I’m a bit of a fan of the plucky little VW diesels, so I may be somewhat biased here, but will do my best to remain impartial considering.

First, watch the video:

Now, I’m going to dissect this some. First and very obviously, VW had the whole dieselgate scandal we’re all well familiar with by now. It’s been going on for just over 2 years now since that went public. VW deserved some punishment there, and the U.S. dished it out quite well. They’ve been paying billions in restitution and buying back affected cars, not to mention applying updates to the affected cars that remain on roads. Surprisingly, VW seemed more than willing to do so to try and mitigate the image issue. Most automakers would have fought tooth and nail til the bitter end, denying culpability at every turn. I guess ze Germans haven’t talked to enough American lawyers over the years to know how to speak without giving away too much information and implying guilt of any sort.

Anyway. The reality is that the current crop of VW diesels still being sold overseas have had to comply with much more rigorous testing meant to be very difficult for the software to detect that it’s being tested by using mobile emissions analyzers while the vehicle is being driven on public roads.

If anyone has bothered to look at today’s regulations vs. say pre-tier 2 here in the U.S., you would see that diesels, which once were allowed a little relaxed target for NOx, now suddenly had to meet not only the same targets as gas engines, but that target was also 10 TIMES closer to zero than they were in 2006. EU regulations were a little more relaxed. The numbers are as follows:

2006: 0.7 g/mi allowed.
2007 and up tier 2 bin 5 (which VW’s diesels were supposedly complying with): 0.07 g/mi.

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Now, here in the U.S., the little diesels never caught on big. They’ve been selling here in small numbers since 1996 since their switch to “TDI” (Turbo Direct Injection) and had a break after 2006 to work on the new, cheaty “clean” diesels, which wouldn’t come out until model year 2009.

In Europe, it’s a whole different story. In the early 90s, diesels were viewed as being far cleaner than gas engines, and in many ways they were. Plus, they’re far more efficient. As gas engine emissions controls and fuel injection systems advanced, they became much cleaner. But, in those early days, diesel still being cleaner at that moment (they could pass emissions regulations without catalytic converters, let’s just put it that way) various European governments went about incentivizing the adoption of diesel engines. They taxed the fuel so its prices were always artificially lower than gasoline. The more efficient a vehicle was the less tax you’d pay on the vehicle itself, whether it be via yearly registration or just a tax tacked onto the purchase price, varies depending on country. Some countries tax gas engines based on displacement and are far more lenient towards diesels.

With fuel already being taxed abysmally high in the region, diesel became an extremely popular choice because it was vastly more affordable, and technology was advancing to the point where they were actually pretty nice to drive, too.

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20 years on, and air quality in Europe has gotten worse, not just because there’s more human activity but also because these old diesels are not at all clean, especially when there’s a massive amount of them in a densely populated area because they made financial sense to buy instead of gas engines.

But the current regulations make diesels just as clean, and in some cases cleaner than gas engines. Diesels never emit damaging VOCs from the transport and refueling process. Diesel vehicles don’t even have evaporative emissions equipment like gas engines because the fuel is an oil, not a volatile liquid that constantly off-gases. Modern diesels are also equipped with particulate traps. You don’t see them emitting any soot anymore thanks to those, and most of them have a tailpipe so clean you could swipe a white glove on the inside of it and it wouldn’t come out dirty.

Can’t say the same for their gasoline counterparts. Especially the direct injected kind. How many times have you been behind a modern gas vehicle that suddenly steps on the throttle an you see this quick gray cloud come out the tailpipes of the thing? You ever see one of VW’s cheaty diesels do that with all its emissions equipment still intact? Nope.

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When you actually start to look at the target numbers of regulations and how close they are to zero, I’m amazed that engineers have been able to make these engines so clean. And that’s my argument. These modern diesels that Greenpeace is imploring VW to ditch? They’re amazingly clean vehicles. And it’s a false narrative to imply that they’re any dirtier than their gasoline counterparts.

VW doesn’t need to ditch diesels, it needed to not cheat on emissions when for a little more money in equipment on each car, they could have genuinely met regulations. What diesels have now is an image problem largely thanks to VW, but their reputation as being impossibly dirty vehicles when applied to the current generation is false at best. It’s verging on malicious now on Greenpeace’s part.

I keep hoping for a day when rationality and evidence makes a return to public discourse on such subjects, but it seems the world just gets more polarized and entrenched in opposing ideals and automatically believe in what backs up their beliefs rather than any moment of discernment and discussion that the world might not be as black and white as they’d like to make it out as being.