UK car industry defends diesel as government readies pollution plan

FILE PHOTO - Traffic queues on the M6 motorway near Manchester, northern England March 19, 2012. REUTERS/Phil Noble

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s automotive industry body defended diesel cars on Monday, as the government prepares to announce proposals for improving air quality which could follow London in making it more expensive to use the most polluting vehicles.

The government is due to announce by April 24 plans to comply with European Union legislation to improve air quality and meet nitrogen dioxide limits following a ruling by the High Court late last year.

London’s mayor has promised to crack down on polluting vehicles to make the city the greenest in the world, banning new diesel taxis from 2018 and introducing a series of new levies on motorists, which could be copied nationwide.

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Diesel cars have been increasingly maligned since the Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE emissions scandal in 2015, while a study that year by researchers at King's College London found nearly 9,500 Londoners die prematurely a year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution.

“Some recent reports have failed to differentiate between ... much cleaner cars and vehicles of the past,” said Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief Mike Hawes.

Sales of diesel cars are down 1 percent so far this year in Britain, compared with a rise of 6 percent in the market as a whole. Demand for petrol is up 11.5 percent, in a sign that buyers may be moving away from diesel.

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Several cities such as Paris, Stuttgart, Athens, Brussels and Madrid are trying to reduce pollution by proposing bans, fines and restrictions on diesel vehicles.

Editing by David Holmes