• SMMT hosts first ever debate on contribution of commercial vehicles to improving air quality
  • Tests show latest low emission diesels 95% cleaner than older vehicles
  • Converting all London buses to modern diesels would remove 30% of NOx

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) on Wednesday brought together commercial vehicle and bus manufacturers with London’s transport policy makers and others around the country at a special event in the capital to discuss the future contribution of commercial vehicles to improving air quality.

"Diesel is not a dirty word," SMMT said. "Today’s event reiterated calls for the mayor of London Boris Johnson and Transport for London (TfL) to recognise the vital role of modern diesel vehicles in reducing emissions across London – and to invest in them now."

SMMT said latest technology vehicles are fitted with filters that capture 99% of harmful soot particulates while exhaust after-treatments dramatically reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). 'Real world' tests conducted by TfL on the cross-city London 159 bus route showed a 95% reduction in emissions of NOx over older technology vehicles.

Transport for London has pledged that the majority of buses operating in the proposed Ultra Low Emissions Zone in the capital will meet the latest EU emissions standard, known as Euro-6, by 2020. However, with buses expected to contribute 50% of road transport NOx emissions across central London in 2015, SMMT called for this investment to be brought forward.

"By supporting the uptake of the latest Euro-6 buses and commercial vehicles, Transport for London has the opportunity to dramatically reduce pollution across the capital – removing 30% of NOx from the air – and avoid hundreds of millions of pounds in fines that will be levied by the EU if air quality obligations are not met," SMMT said.

Chief executive Mike Hawes said: "[Auto] industry shares public concerns about air quality and has responded by investing billions of pounds in advanced diesel commercial vehicles that are 95% cleaner than their predecessors. Accelerating the renewal of the TfL bus fleet will allow Londoners to enjoy this benefit now.

"SMMT wrote to mayor Johnson in December 2014 calling for a more ambitious approach to his proposals for the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. Industry is keen to engage on this issue, and work collaboratively in the best interests of London.

"Modern diesel technology can make a vital contribution to cleaning up the air we all breathe but it cannot do the job on its own. The key now is uptake. It's time to stop demonising diesel. Transport for London must work together with industry and operators to adopt the latest diesel technology. We hope today’s debate marked the start of that dialogue."

Almost 780,000 commercial vehicles and buses enter the London Congestion Charge Zone every year.

In 2014, buses, carried commuters on more than 2.4bn journeys across the capital.