KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Only 3 percent of cars in the U.S. run on diesel, but in Europe, about half the cars have diesel engines. That is expected to change. Three European capitals plan to ban diesel cars from their roads because diesel is now seen as dirtier than gasoline. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Rush hour on Grand Via - this is Madrid's main artery. It's like the Spanish Broadway - absolutely packed with cars at rush hour. One, two, three, six lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper, and it's too bad because this avenue is lined with beautiful art deco buildings. This is quintessential Madrid, and yet, these ornate facades are blackened with soot.
MARIA VILLALLEGA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "The pollution hurts my eyes, and I can feel it in my throat," says Maria Villallega, who walks to work here.
VILLALLEGA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: Madrid's pollution has exceeded European Union limits for the past eight years running, in part because half of all cars here run on diesel. European governments have long levied lower taxes on diesel than on gasoline because it was thought to be cleaner.
MIKE ROSENBERG: Diesel cars go farther on a gallon of fuel, so they produce less carbon.
FRAYER: Mike Rosenberg is an auto industry expert at Spain's IESE Business School. He says that while less carbon is better for the planet, diesel cars emit something else that's worse for human beings.
ROSENBERG: They emit nitric oxide or the nitrous and dioxide, or what's called NOX. And they also emit soot, black particles, which are very, very small and contain lots and lots of toxins.
FRAYER: With those toxins in the air and news of the Volkswagen emissions scandal in the U.S., Europe is doing a 180 on diesel. Madrid, Paris and Athens plan to ban most diesel trucks and cars by 2025. In a showroom of a big Ford dealership in Madrid, the mood ahead of the diesel ban is...
JAVIER QUINTANA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: Total panic, says Ford salesman Javier Quintana. Sales of hybrids and electric cars are up 90 percent in Madrid over the past four months. But half of Quintana's inventory of diesel. He drives a diesel himself.
QUINTANA: (Through interpreter) What we're doing is modifying cars to limit pollution. In the factory, we can use additives so the cars emit less to comply with air quality rules. And yes, we've also lowered the prices to get people to buy these diesels.
FRAYER: Some of those diesels that no one wants to buy end up here in a vast parking lot south of Madrid on the plains of La Mancha, where unsold cars come to rust. They're unloading about a dozen from a tractor trailer here right now.
MIGUEL BUENDIA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "I have no idea what I'll do with all of these diesels," says Miguel Buendia who sells used cars and scrap metal on the lot. Their value will keep dropping, and if I can't sell them in this country, I'll have to sell them elsewhere, he says. For that, says auto industry expert Mike Rosenberg, a new industry may pop up.
ROSENBERG: There will be this enormous number of used diesels, which no one's going to want to buy, which you won't be able to drive in the city. And my guess is a industry will appear out of nowhere to ship all these cars further east and further south.
FRAYER: To Eastern Europe and Africa where in many cities the air pollution is even worse than it is here. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
(SOUNDBITE OF PICTUREPLANE SONG, "GOTH STAR")
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