Lifestyle Guides

Tailpipe emissions: how clean is your van?


Sales of diesel cars plummeted by nearly 22% in 2019. Air quality concerns affected buyers’ decisions, as well as confusion over the proposed introduction of ultra low emissions zones in UK cities, which could see bans or charges for heavier-polluting, older vehicles.

With their superior fuel economy and low CO2 emissions (offering tax benefits for business users), diesels still make sense in the commercial vehicle sector and the vast majority of vans and pick-ups on our roads are still diesel-powered. 

However, pollution levels are not just based on CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions – the biggest contributor to global warming.

NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions may not be as dangerous to the ozone layer as CO2, but they’re one of the most harmful to public health.

Acute NOx exposure can trigger asthma attacks and worsen respiratory diseases.

The AIR Alliance, publishers of the AIR Index – an independent rating system that claims to accurately reveal how much pollution a vehicle produces when it’s used in towns and cities – tested some of the best-selling vans in Europe, giving each vehicle a simple A-E rating (with A being the best).

They found that although all the vans tested met Euro 6 (tailpipe emissions standard for vehicles sold since September 2015) specs for emissions, their performance on the road was very different, revealing a big difference between laboratory-based legal limits and real-world NOx emissions. 

For instance, the Mercedes Citan had the worst emissions of the vans tested on the road, emitting 17 times more NOx than Volkswagen’s Crafter, one of the cleanest vans.

The tests revealed that, of the 10 vans tested, only three received an AIR Index ‘A’ rating, yet all can be driven through London's Ultra Low Emission Zone without penalty.

In terms of urban road traffic, van emissions have a major impact on air quality simply because they’re used far more than cars. The average parcel van travels between 20,000 and 30,000 miles a year, while grocery home delivery vans can cover up to 50,000 miles a year. 

Vans are also the fastest-growing traffic segment, accounting for 70% of the growth in road-miles over the last 20 years. As internet shopping continues to grow, so do light van sales and their use on our roads.

Here are the tailpipe emissions of some best-selling vans...

Make and model Year AIR Index Rating Fuel Type Official NOx limit* Euro Standard Actual Urban NOx mg/km
Volkswagen Crafter CR35 LWB High Roof 2.0 2019 A Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 53
Volkswagen Caddy C20 Highline TDI 2.0 2018 A Diesel 105 mg/km Euro 6 70
Peugeot Partner Asphalt 1.6 2019 A Diesel 80 mg/km Euro 6 73
Volkswagen Transporter T30 Highline TDI Bluemotion 2.0 2018 B Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 100
Mercedes Vito CDI 114 LWB 2.1 2017 B Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 147
Ford Transit Custom 300 Limited 2.0 2019 C Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 260
Vauxhall/Opel Vivaro CDTI 2900 1.6 2019 D Diesel 105 mg/km Euro 6 401
Citroen Relay L3H2 Enterprise Blue HDi 2.0 2018 D Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 557
Mercedes Vito CDI 111 LWB 1.6 (pre-update) 2017 D Diesel 125 mg/km Euro 6 566
Mercedes Citan 109 Dualiner 1.5 2019 E Diesel 105 mg/km Euro 6 902

* Official NOx limit refers to the in-laboratory Euro standards, and NOx limits for vans. These vary according to vehicle classification/weight, e.g. Euro 6 Class I = 80 mg/km, Euro 6 Class II = 105 mg/km, Euro 6 Class III = 125 mg/km

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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