Auto Expo shows car industry is riding high on diesel and hard-selling diesel car models to add to the scary trend in toxic pollution exposure and lung cancer risk

February 10, 2016

Despite the misgivings regarding use of low-taxed diesel in the luxury segment, as many as 27 per cent of all displayed car/SUV models in Auto Expo were in the bracket of 2000 cc engines diesel that is banned in the NCR

  • CSE’s rapid review of car models put on display by 15 major car manufacturers – more than 90 per cent of the market share – in the recently concluded Auto Expo shows India is poised for massive dieselisation without clean diesel 

  • Car industry is hard-selling diesel cars – 53 per cent of all cars on display were on diesel 

  • Worse, in contrast to the earlier trends, the industry has innovated to bring more diesel cars in small and mid-size segments. This, combined with cheaper diesel prices, can unleash massive dieselisation in India 

  • Petrol cars are 39 per cent of all cars displayed. Hint of green is evident in hybrids and electric models that are 8 per cent of all new displays

  • This massive diesel plan has been hatched by the industry without any commitment to early introduction of Euro VI emissions standards 

  • This demands urgent policy intervention to implement Euro VI emissions standards much before 2020; ban luxury segment on low tax diesel; and restrain diesel cars with high taxes to neutralise the effect of cheaper diesel prices

  • Car industry cannot be allowed to dieselise based on current technology that causes toxic diesel emissions and deadly carcinogens and contribute to rising pollution and exposure. Globally, there is a backlash against diesel for its pollution and public health impacts.

New Delhi February 10, 2016: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has warned against the impending public health crisis with the auto industry hard-selling diesel cars. A rapid review of the car models on display in the recently concluded Auto Expo in the National Capital Region shows more than half of all new cars on display use diesel and more diesel models in both big and small car segments.  This is in complete disregard of the raging public health concerns around toxic diesel emissions that has led the  Supreme Court to crack down on diesel emissions from luxury diesel cars, diesel taxis and trucks and phasing in of environment compensation charge. It has also spurred the Union Government to consider advancement of Euro VI emissions standards to narrow the gap between petrol and diesel emissions. 

CSE analysis shows this diesel drive is taking off when clean diesel fuel and technology have not been planned and committed to. The ongoing and stepped up dieselisation over the next five years will lock in enormous toxic pollution and lung cancer risk. WHO has included diesel emissions in the worst class of carcinogens for its strong link with lung cancer. Toxins are dangerous even at trace amount. 

Auto Expo foreshadows the trend in dieselisation

CSE has done a quick round of Auto Expo to check the share of car models on different fuels. It has covered 15 major car makers that represent more than 90 per cent of the car market. It is possible that some of the car models were not part of the information that was available to us and was used in this analysis. But based on the available data it indicates massive dieselisation plan. The key highlight of the corporate strategy on dieselisation is as follows:

Diesel overdrive: More than half - as much as 53 per cent of all new car models on display at the Auto Expo are on diesel. Petrol cars are 39 per cent and the rest include hybrids, electric, CNG and LPG cars. This is of serious concern as the share of diesel cars in new car sales has already increased significantly from 4 per cent in 2000 to half during this decade. 

Hard sell of luxury diesel cars and SUVs: In total disregard of the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court and the policy-makers over the misuse of low-tax diesel for luxury consumption, a large number of models with 2000 cc and above – as much as 27 per cent of all cars – were on display. Only 7 per cent of 2000 cc and above were in petrol.

High penetration of diesel cars in mid size segment: This time more diesel cars have penetrated deep in the mid-size engine segment that is becoming increasingly popular. Growing income levels and cheaper fuel prices are inciting this trend.

  • Big car segment of 1200–1500 cc: As many as 59 car models, including petrol and diesel, were on display. Of these 28 models or 47 per cent had diesel versions. The conventional small car makers have entered this market in a big way. 

  • Mid-size segment of 1500-1900 cc: In this category, 10 car models were on display. Of these, 6 or 60 per cent were on diesel.

  • The grey zone of 1900-2000cc: After the Supreme Court ban on luxury segment of engines 2000 cc and above in the National Capital Region of Delhi the category of 1900cc-2000 cc has become the grey zone. There are already 5 cars in this segment; 4 of them are diesel. 

This gradual shift towards bigger engines has a serious pollution implication. Big engines emit more than small engines. Unfortunately, the car industry, despite making big claims about clean emissions from their diesel cars, has not revealed any recent emissions data. But the earlier emission factors of ARAI for post 2005 models has shown that particulate matter emissions from multi-utility vehicles (less than 3000 cc) are 6 times higher than the diesel car engines less than 1600 cc; NOx emissions are two times higher. It is important to prevent the growing shift towards bigger engines in the absence of clean diesel fuel and technology. These are more polluting and are fuel guzzlers compared to small car cars. 

Small segment - 800cc to 1200 cc, dieselised: In contrast to the earlier trends when diesel cars were introduced largely in mid and large engine sizes, this time significant penetration has been noted in the small engine category. In this smallest engine category a total of 12 cars– both diesel and petrol, have been put out. Of these 33% are on diesel. The share of small cars is about 8% of all cars on display.  India is losing the advantage of the small car market. 

Industry hard selling diesel at the cost of public health: Not only the diesel emissions have been put in the list of class 1 carcinogen for strong link with the lung cancer, several studies now show diesel particles are more dangerous than particles from other sources for triggering ischemic heath disease and other respiratory ailments. This will only worsen with more diesel cars on the roads. It is important to reiterate that the Kanpur IIT study has shown that in different locations of their study in Delhi diesel vehicles contribute hugely to PM2.5 – as high as 70-90% of PM2.5. 

Remove the incentive of cheap diesel fuel: Industry cannot take advantage of fiscal policy to tax diesel lower for farmers, and freight to push cars – especially as there is no clean diesel to reduce public health risk. It is ironical that – as the data of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas shows, after trucks at 28 per cent, private cars have become the second highest user of diesel in the country at 13.15 per cent -- as much as it is used in agriculture.  Buses use about 9 per cent of diesel - less than cars do. This brings out the misuse of low-taxed and subsidized diesel fuel for luxury consumption. 

CSE statement said it is unacceptable that for the same end use – that is personal vehicle use – one set of vehicle users is paying less in taxes than others. Petrol cars users and two-wheeler users pay 1.3 times higher central taxes per litre of fuel than diesel car and SUV users. ‘Polluter pays’ is an important principle that must be applied to tax the diesel cars higher and recover the higher health cost of diesel emission. Fiscal loopholes must be plugged to stop misuse of government’s fuel tax policy.

Auto industry cannot justify their diesel plan projecting Europe as their poster boy anymore: In a dramatic development in December, 2015, a group of 24 scientists from leading scientific institutions in Europe, supported by scientists from the US, issued an open letter to the European policy-makers, expressing strong concern over impact of diesel cars on air quality of Europe. They have appealed to say, “With the help of weaker standards, diesel cars have been granted pollution privileges by EU law. As a result, poor air quality continues to have grave consequences for public health and European policy makers must act to correct this as a matter of urgency.” 

In 2014, United Kingdom was dragged to the European Court of Justice for violating the NOx standards. Modern diesel cars meeting Euro VI emissions standards have been found to be emitting several times more NOx than their certification level in Europe. Paris is banning diesel cars by 2020. London has proposed to bar entry of diesel cars not meeting Euro VI diesel cars in their ultra low emissions zones. There are clear evidences now that the real world emissions from diesel cars are much higher than their certification levels and compared to petrol cars in Europe.

In Brazil, sales of diesel passenger cars and commercial vehicles of certain weight category have been banned since the 1970s. In China, taxes do not differentiate between petrol and diesel fuel. Beijing has banned diesel cars as a pollution control measure. Sri Lanka has imposed several times higher duties on diesel cars compared to petrol cars and reduced diesel car sales. Even in India, several official committees have asked for special and additional taxes on diesel cars to neutralise the incentive of cheaper diesel fuel.

Act now

It is clear that the car industry is taking advantage of the distorted fuel pricing policy and also the weaker emissions standards to dieselise rapidly. The growing concern in cities about their contribution to high exposure to toxic emissions and their cancer-causing potential at the current level of technology have failed to informed or influence adequately the corporate policy for environmentally and socially responsible business. The same industry has also show-cased cleaner technologies of hybrids, electric and CNG – about 8 per cent of the total cars on display at the Expo. As there is no clear roadmap to promote clean technology and discourage dirty technology, the mainstream business will continue to ride high on dirty diesel. CSE’s recommendations include:

  • Control dieselisation by imposing higher taxes on all diesel cars to neutralise the advantage of cheaper diesel fuel. This has already been recommended by expert committees in the past. Apply ‘polluter pays’ principle. 

  • Do not allow misuse of fiscal policy of keeping taxes on diesel low for farmers by the luxury vehicle segment

  • Advance Euro VI emissions standards before 2020 and until then restrict dieselisation.


For further information, please contact Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/ vrinda.nagar@cseindia.org.