In his garage in outer Warsaw, Piotr Sliwa inspects the slick new gas installations under the bonnet of an aged Skoda. Since 1996, Mr Sliwa’s family has generated extra cash by converting conventional petrol and diesel engines to Autogas, a form of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). “Back then, they were gasing four cars per day,” says Mr Sliwa. Business is slower today but LPG has remained popular because of its low price (it costs only half as much as petrol and is only slightly less efficient). LPG-fuelled vehicles also generate 14% fewer CO2 emissions than petrol cars and 10% fewer that diesel ones.
Mr Sliwa’s handiwork has helped propel Poland up the ranking of European countries with the most vehicles running on fuels other than petrol or diesel. According to new data from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, 15% of Polish motorists fill their vehicles with LPG and other alternative fuels. Only Turkey has a higher share of alternatively powered cars on the road; 38% of Turkish drivers use LPG. Rounding out the top five on the list are Lithuania, Italy and Latvia.
Even in Poland, 54% of drivers rely on petrol and 31% on diesel. Most Europeans overwhelmingly prefer conventional fuels (ditto Americans: 95% of their cars are petrol-driven). In Belgium, France and Luxembourg, the fuel of choice is still diesel, which took off in Europe in the 1990s as a cheaper—and supposedly cleaner—alternative to petrol. Diesel fell out of official favour in 2015, when regulators learned that Volkswagen, the world’s biggest carmaker, had been cheating on emissions tests. In December 2016 the mayors of Athens, Madrid, Mexico City and Paris committed themselves to phasing out diesel vehicles from their streets by 2025 to curb pollution. Twenty-four European cities plan bans over the next decade. Yet the technology is likely to stick around. Worn western cars are often resold in eastern countries, where regulations are less stringent, says Wojciech Drzewiecki of SAMAR, a Polish automotive consultancy.
Electric vehicles continue to rise in popularity, although they still account for only a small fraction of the European fleet (and just 0.4% of America’s). In Norway, where they have made most progress, EVs now account for more than one in 20 cars on the road, thanks in part to generous discounts financed by levies on petrol and diesel cars. On November 4th Germany announced that it would increase subsidies for electric cars and build more charging stations. The government intends to expand the country’s EV fleet to 7m-10m by 2030. By then, Mr Sliwa says he hopes to be working mainly with electric motors.
This article is from our Graphic Detail section.