Has the Diesel Emissions Scandal Affected Air Quality Permanently?

The Dieselgate saga that unfolded in the early 2010s stands out as a dark chapter in the automotive industry. Once the truth emerged about the deliberate attempts to cover up Volkswagen emissions, it sparked widespread outrage and a significant hit to the reputation of the German automaker, followed by several other big-name automakers involved. But beyond the financial and PR fallout, there remains a troubling question that lingers in the exhaust-filled air: has the scandal wrought an irreversible change in our global air quality?

Understanding Dieselgate: A Quick Recap

The scandal came to light when authorities discovered that certain diesel cars were fitted with defeat devices that could reduce emissions under test conditions. Once on the road, these vehicles emitted as much as 40 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The environmental and public health ramifications were immediate and concerning, with NOx known to cause respiratory issues and contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog.

The broader impact, however, extended beyond immediate health risks. It sparked a crisis of public trust, as consumers and governments alike questioned the integrity of the automotive industry. The case also underscored a regulatory system that appeared to be too easily manipulated, leading to pledges for firmer emissions testing and controls.

The Aftermath in Air Quality

Considering that the transport sector – and, by association, the automotive industry – plays a significant role in air quality standards, the repercussions of Dieselgate should have been very concerning. Excessive NOx emissions, in particular, are held accountable for respiratory ailments, and a substantial reduction in diesel pollutants post-Dieselgate would be a reasonable expectation.

Various reports and analyses following the scandal indeed demonstrated a decline in NOx levels in affected regions, but determining a direct and permanent link to the scandal is complex. Post-Dieselgate, there were widespread vehicle recalls and upgrades to diminish emissions, while some cities even implemented diesel bans. However, the decline in diesel vehicle market share and the growing push for electric mobility are likely more influential factors driving improved air quality trends since the scandal.

In the UK, there’s been a visible decrease in NOx levels, which some attribute to the investigation and its consequential actions. Nonetheless, it’s evident that the issue of air quality predates and outlasts the Dieselgate controversy, often stemming from factors beyond a single manufacturer or technology.

The Impact on Consumer Behaviour

One telltale sign of change has been in consumer behaviour. Following the scandal, diesel car sales plummeted across Europe and diesel emission claims, discussed in-depth in, soared. The stigma attached to diesel vehicles, heightened by Dieselgate, prompted individual consumers and corporate fleets to move toward electric and hybrid alternatives.

This shift is essential for the future of air quality. Even though newer diesel vehicles are cleaner and more efficient, encouraging a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is a crucial step to reduce overall carbon emissions. The scandal may have accelerated this transition by signalling the beginning of the end for diesel, especially in cities aiming for zero-emission status.

Health and Environmental Outcomes

The health implications of the Dieselgate scandal are likely to be long-lasting. NOx emissions, which contribute to poor air quality, have been linked to a range of health problems. The exposure has been associated with an increased risk of asthma attacks, decreased lung function in children, and exacerbation of chronic respiratory diseases in adults.

In terms of the environment, the excess NOx released by affected vehicles has contributed to air pollution, affecting the quality of crops and water sources. The call to action following Dieselgate has spurred increased awareness of the interplay between transportation emissions and broader ecological systems.

Sustaining Change in the Post-Dieselgate Era

In the aftermath of Dieselgate, sustainability has become a centrepiece of automotive industry strategy. Manufacturers are investing heavily in electric mobility, with plans for future vehicle electrification and expanded charging infrastructure.

However, to ensure that the air quality improvements are permanent, actions must be sustained. This includes continued investment in R&D, promoting public transit, and pushing for cleaner fuel technology. Policy shifts, such as the UK’s 2035 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and the EU’s Green Deal, are crucial in maintaining momentum.

It is also important to engage with consumers and stakeholders to ensure that these changes are not just reactive to a crisis but are part of a long-term, sustainable shift in how we view and use transportation.


The Dieselgate scandal was a wake-up call. Addressing air quality is an ongoing effort that demands vigilance and collaboration across sectors. By maintaining the current trajectory through stringent policies, continuous innovation, and informed consumer choices, it is possible to ensure that the legacy of Dieselgate is not just in the improved vehicle standards but in the perpetuation of cleaner air for all citizens, both present and future.

Jason Holder

My name is Jason Holder and I am the owner of Mini School. I am 26 years old. I live in USA. I am currently completing my studies at Texas University. On this website of mine, you will always find value-based content.

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