India's automotive industry is the poster boy of 'Make in India'. But growth has to be balanced with national priorities such as energy security and emission control. So, the country will need a bouquet of technologies and fuel diversity to make growth sustainable.
Diesel, Then And Now
Delhi Gasps, screamed a newspaper headline in November 2015. That year, air quality deteriorated to a level no one had ever seen before. Matters landed in court, similar to what had happened in 1998-99, and diesel fell prey. Actions taken included stopping registration of diesel passenger vehicles above 2,000cc and limiting the life of diesel cars in the National Capital Region to 10 years.
What might have been relevant in 1999 was also considered relevant in 2015. However, a number of new-technology diesel engines were introduced between 2001 and 2015, especially in the passenger car segment. Today, all cars are equipped with common rail diesel technology and relevant exhaust aftertreatment systems. Reductions in vehicular emissions from the 1999 levels stand at 84 per cent for CO2, 77 per cent for Nox and 86 per cent for particulate matter (PM). An IIT-Kanpur study conducted in Delhi also showed passenger cars contributed only 2 per cent of the overall PM pollution load. It was natural that the odd-even experiments in Delhi did not yield any benefit.
Cleaner Diesel In 2020
The auto industry, the oil industry and the government have decided that the 2020 target of meeting BSVI norms is to be achieved, leading to leapfrogging technology and regulations. With BSVI, PM emissions from new diesel vehicles featuring robust aftertreatment technologies such as diesel particulate filters will be near zero. In fact, emissions will be similar to petrol vehicles. Reductions from the 1999 levels will be nearly 97 per cent for PM and 93 per cent for NOx.
Will diesel face the stigma in spite of improvement? The controversy surrounding the Dieselgate in Europe and the US has not helped its case, but this outright dismissal is not entirely rational from an engineering point of view. With road transportation in Europe being the largest contributor to NOx, Dieselgate was more relevant to Europe. As the Euro VI technology has been adopted by the region to deal with higher NOx levels, India can learn from Europe when it adopts BSVI in 2020. As far as technology goes, diesel engines will help control CO2 emissions as it is more fuel-efficient than petrol - every litre of diesel gives 15 per cent more energy compared to petrol. However, the noise around diesel vehicles and the reduction of useful life to 10 years have seen diesel penetration come down from 50 to 34 per cent in passenger vehicles. Is it good for India?
Energy Security And Lower CO2
Nearly 65 per cent of petrol is used by two-wheelers while 20-25 per cent of diesel is used by cars as per published studies. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows if all diesel cars shift to petrol, its consumption will rise by 14 per cent, which is not in line with reducing crude oil imports or CO2 emissions.
A recent ICCT study compared the CO2 fleet averages of new vehicles in various countries. India (123g/km) is a shade behind Europe (120g/km) but much ahead of developed countries like Japan (136g/km), the US, South Korea and China. Besides a large portfolio of small fuel-efficient vehicles, three million CNG vehicles and a healthy penetration of diesel engines have helped to pull it off.
Japan is now giving incentives for purchasing diesel vehicles to reduce CO2 emissions. Paradoxically, India is adopting a fuel-neutral emission norm in 2020 but diesel is still struggling under regulatory and financial burden. With BSVI, prices of diesel vehicles will rise. But then, newer diesel engines will comply with more stringent targets. Will consumers pay even more for a cleaner diesel engine? If market forces are allowed to function, diesel will continue to have its supporters.