The emerging scandal at Volkswagen and Audi is raising the question of whether “clean diesel” is an oxymoron. I have shone the spotlight on this question before, and the answer for South Africa is: “Yes.” Certainly for city drivers, “clean diesel” is a contradiction in terms. You can read my article for the Mail & Guardian on this topic here.

The South African authorities have launched an investigation into whether VW’s rigged engine software was used to circumvent South African standards and the carbon tax on vehicle sales. Regardless of those results, all diesel vehicles pollute more in South Africa than in the US or Europe. Our standard diesel fuel has 10 times the sulfur found in European diesel and 33 times more sulfur than in American diesel. Paying more for low-sulfur diesel just adds to one problem while partially solving another; though engine emissions are better, 10ppm and 50 ppm fuels have a much higher coal content, contributing to higher emissions at Sasol’s refineries. You can find advice on choosing the fuel and engine suited to your driving here.