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SMMT called for an end to the demonization of diesel fuel. Reuters

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the UK's top motor industry association, has launched a campaign to rebrand diesel as a clean fuel.

The fuel has come under increased attack from environmental groups and policy makers over its impact on pollution levels.

The French capital Paris could ban the use of diesel-powered cars by 2020, as part of mayor Anne Hidalgo's anti-pollution plans.

A partial Parisian ban came into force in March 2014 after the air quality in the city was recorded at its worst on record.

Backed by Ford, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, SMMT said fears over the fuel were misguided and urged a halt to the "demonisation" of diesel in the UK.

"Today's diesel engines are the cleanest ever, and the culmination of billions of pounds of investment by manufacturers to improve air quality," SMMT chief Mike Hawes said in a statement.

"Bans and parking taxes on diesel vehicles therefore make no sense from an environmental point of view," he added.

Diesel had in the past been promoted as a cleaner alternative to petrol, as it is more efficient and emits less carbon dioxide. However, diesel-powered cars emit more nitrogen oxides than those run on petrol.

The UK's Environmental Audit Committee in December 2014 said that air pollution had become a "public health crisis" and urged a scrappage scheme for diesel cars.