Diesel car demand continues to decline

The number of new diesel cars registered for sale in the UK has continued to decline, figures published by the motor industry today (5 April) have suggested.

Published by the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the figures cover the first three months of the year (January to March 2018) and suggest that sales of new diesels have fallen by around 33.3%, down to 240,614 compared to the first quarter in 2017.

wide road with vehicles

According to the SMMT, ‘political uncertainty and confusion over air quality plans’ has continued to affect consumer confidence, which it claims has contributed to the declining sales figures.

Despite the drop in diesel car sales, registrations of petrol vehicles have increased compared to the same period 12 months ago, with 441,182 vehicles sold compared to 426,093 in 2017, an increase of 3.5%.

The market for alternatively fuelled vehicles has continued to grow apace, seeing a 9.8% rise compared to the same period last year — although still only making up a small proportion of the overall number of new cars on the market — 36,693 out of a total 718,489.

However, overall, sales of new cars have continued to dip — with volumes of vehicles registered falling 12.4% compared to the first quarter in 2017.

Air Quality

Commenting on the data, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “March’s decline is not unexpected given the huge surge in registrations in the same month last year. Despite this, the market itself is relatively high with the underlying factors in terms of consumer choice, finance availability and cost of ownership all highly competitive. Consumer and business confidence, however, has taken a knock in recent months and a thriving new car market is essential to the overall health of our economy.

“This means creating the right economic conditions for all types of consumers to have the confidence to buy new vehicles. All technologies, regardless of fuel type, have a role to play in helping improve air quality whilst meeting our climate change targets, so government must do more to encourage consumers to buy new vehicles rather than hang onto their older, more polluting vehicles.”

Diesel vehicles have been recognised as a major contributor to nitrogen dioxide pollution on busy roads across the UK, particularly as some diesels have been found to be emitting far higher levels of pollutants in real-world conditions than in laboratory tests to determine if they should be allowed on the road.

Carbon dioxide

However, declining diesel sales are also likely to impact the carbon tailpipe emissions of new cars, potentially hampering progress towards climate change targets.

Diesel vehicles are known to emit lower levels of CO2 than petrol vehicles, thus helping to reduce the impact of transport on climate change, and have therefore enjoyed favourable taxation rates compared to petrol cars.

And, others have suggested that that figures suggest that car buyers have ‘gone on strike’ due to the uncertainty over the potential for government or local authorities policies which could seek to turn people away from diesel — which potentially means that they are holding on to older, more polluting models for longer (see story).

Related Links
SMMT – New car registration data


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