While it’s undeniable that diesel-powered vehicles are still in high demand in Malta, Malta’s car importers confirmed that demand for such vehicles hit a peak in 2015, and has been slowly in decline since then.
Figures collected from members of the Association of Car Importers Malta (ACIM) show that from 2011 to 2015, demand for diesel vehicles rose exponentially, from 24.47 in 2011, to 42.76 per cent of total sales in 2015. However, in 2017, diesel vehicles represented 37.25 per cent of total deliveries, indicating a decrease of 5.51 per cent two years down the line.
“Demand is still strong, although there are clear signs that it is weakening,” commented Mark Testaferrata Moroni Viani, Marketing Manager at Kind’s Auto Sales Ltd, importers of leading brands including Mercedes-Benz and Renault. “Diesel engines are more fuel-efficient than petrol ones and so they offer significant savings on fuel expenditure.”
“The demand for diesel engine vehicles remains strong, although there has been a decline in diesel engine choice for smaller vehicle categories,” said William Shaw, spokesman for the ACIM. “Clients keep choosing diesel mainly due to consumption and power/torque issues, and the fact that the latest diesel-powered vehicles have very low emission levels. These same reasons are also applicable for commercial vehicles.”
Mr Shaw said that the ACIM, which represents the importers of new cars, had always been at the forefront in promoting cleaner fuel vehicles. “Unfortunately, the importation of older used cars with higher emissions has had a negative effect on the emission levels average. We feel that this is a contradiction to Government’s aim to reduce emissions.”
Meanwhile, efforts are being made by countries all across Europe to phase out diesel vehicles. When contacted by this newspaper, the Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects said that while it had issued a tender to commission consultancy services, with the aim of arriving at a cut-off date for the importation and registration of not just diesel vehicles, but all internal combustion engine-powered (ICE) vehicles in Malta, it did not expect the use of ICE commercial vehicles to be limited in the near future.
“Government is sensitive to the fact that such a transformation cannot happen overnight. In fact, the Government expects this consultation to result in suggestions on how to sustainably make the move towards full electrification. As far as commercial vehicles are concerned, it is not expected that the use of such vehicles will be limited any time soon. Alternative technology and alternative fuels for such vehicles is still not market ready, while the newer technology such as hydrogen is still a little far away to be mainstream technology, although fuels such as compressed natural gas (CNG) are already being used on certain type of buses. On the other hand, as far as passenger vehicles are concerned, once green vehicles (such as electric vehicles) become cheaper and more competitive in price as well as become more readily available, it will be only a matter of time that such a switch is made,” the Transport Ministry said.
“In our opinion, the setting of such a cut-off date must take into consideration the likely speed of development of EV technology,” Kind’s Mr Testaferrata Moroni Viani remarked. “Too soon would imply a much larger reliance on petrol engines. This would point toward a substantial increase in CO2 emissions, which, although technically not deemed to be a pollutant, it is generally accepted that it contributes significantly to global warming. The cut-off date must be planned for when EVs will replace diesel engines and not petrol ones .In the meantime, the Government, besides adopting initiatives such as the scrappage scheme for older vehicles and, recently, the checking of diesel particulate filters (DPFs) during VRT, can also encourage local councils to reduce the number and the height of sleeping policemen that can be found everywhere. Each time a vehicle must go over one of these, the driver has to rev the engine, thus increasing emissions of harmful particles in the neighbourhood.”
The uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) locally remains slow. Figures tabled in Parliament in March showed that there were just 1,356 registered electric cars and motorbikes on Maltese roads in 2017. While it has indeed increased threefold over 2013, when 432 electric vehicles were registered, it’s still a tiny fraction of the 365,483 licensed motor vehicles that make up the entire complement of vehicles in Malta.
The Transport Ministry said that Government had been investing heavily in pushing this kind of vehicle. “We are the only European country that has waived registration tax from electric vehicles and the licence fee for five years, apart from offering financial incentives to whoever opts to purchase these cleaner modes of transportation. The Government is also targeting private entities with financial incentives capped at €200,000 for those companies that opt to make the move and change their fleet to the electric models. These schemes have been quite successful, and thus we are already seeing that a change in the mentality is starting to happen.”
“It is however also true,” the Ministry stated, “that car manufacturers are still investing more on car designs of conventional vehicles as against designs of EVs. In spite of the fact that the latter is the car of the future, innovative car design is still being applied to ICE vehicles and not so much to EVs. There are a number of car manufacturing companies that have already declared that they will stop producing full ICE vehicles and will start manufacturing plug-in electric and full electric vehicles, but these companies are still in the minority.”
Transport Malta is currently in the process of reviewing the Malta National Electromobility Action Plan (MNEAP), to bring it in line with the Malta National Transport Strategy and the Malta National Transport Plan. “The MNEAP is a guiding document in a bid to guide the Government in paving the way for these technologies,” the Transport Ministry stated. “But what will happen in the next decade depends very much on future EU legislation and the car market itself. Not to mention the new climate change and energy targets set for member states for 2030. There are a lot of issues going on which could change the current scenario in 10 years’ time. For such plans to materialise, we rely on technology developments and the maturity of such technology to be readily available on the market.”
“Most importantly however, we need to wait for the conclusions of the work of the inter-ministerial committee for the cut-off date of ICE vehicles, as any decisions and dates agreed upon would give the MNEAP a whole new set of different parameters. The MNEAP still has up to 2020 to be reviewed, but it has been decided that the work to update it should start now. Most of the current actions in the MNEAP are in the form of pilot projects as well as policy decisions. While a number of these have been implemented, a number of other actions are still work in progress. Hence it would be safe to say that the best way forward is to wait for the full review and the closure of the current term.”
The ACIM agrees with this assessment, and added, “Malta is not a car manufacturing country and the sales of cars in the country amount to a very small percentage of the overall sales of cars in Europe. Therefore, we will really need to follow the rest of Europe in this, as manufacturers will plan their production for the higher volume markets.”
This article originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer