Rebuilding customer confidence after Dieselgate

By Massimo Fedeli
First published in Auto Retail Bulletin, March 2019

‘I’d really like a (insert car model), but we can’t buy a diesel as a family car because its emissions are bad for us and it’ll drop in value like a stone’. You hear this in the showroom and you know there isn’t an easy response. They want to buy the comfortable, fuel-efficient car they’ve fallen for but now uncertainty seeps into their thinking and they are conflicted. They want you to tell them that it’s ok to buy the car, but the Dieselgate scandal has stripped away layers of trust which WLTP and RDE have failed to restore.

So what happens? Perhaps they defer purchase (not great for the environment) or buy a petrol (not a bad choice, but isn’t as fuel efficient and not necessarily the cleanest option). Now, do you really want to try and explain how new technology is actually clean, and start a scientific discussion about CO2 and NOx emissions and risk losing a sale?

Probably not, and that’s where we are today. Confused customers, and retailers unable to reassure them because of the complicated truth required to explain it. And confusion is expensive. Inchcape put the cost of emissions uncertainty at £198 million in lost revenue during 2018. Dieselgate has cost Volkswagen more than £30 billion – so far.

The solution to restore customer confidence will not come from within the motor industry or from its regulators. The confusing acronyms for the various iterations of Euro standards show that.

We, (the industry, consumers, policy makers) need independent, trusted and easily understood information when making decisions about vehicle choices. This means testing and reporting on multiple models of each car, sourced independently from car makers with results published and accessible online and point of sale. It works for consumer goods such as TVs, washing machines and fridges and can work exactly the same for cars.

In February 2019, the AIR Index was launched. It is an independent emissions rating for cars from A (the best) to E (the worst) with a traffic-light colour coding of the on-road urban NOx emissions results. The first AIR Index ratings have exposed the urban myth that ‘big diesel SUV is bad’. The Euro 6 Land Rover Discovery 3.0 litre diesel is rated ‘A’ with on-road NOx emissions less than half of the official limit, whilst a Euro 6 Renault Clio 1.5 diesel is rated ‘E’ with on-road NOx emissions more than eight (8) times the official limit.

The clear, simple and trusted information from the AIR Index is now available to help consumers make the right choice for air quality in our towns and cities. Whether that choice is petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric it can now be made with facts rather than confused urban myths.    

Massimo Fedeli, former Deputy Chairman of Fiat UK is the Co-founder of Allow Independent Road-testing (AIR), the not for profit company created to find practical solutions to the problem of urban air quality. AIR’s scientific advisory committee of leading air quality and vehicle emissions experts includes Dan Carder who led the team which uncovered Dieselgate.