The popularity of diesels, which currently make up around 40% of cars on UK roads, is set to drop sharply as just 23% of motorists plan to buy diesel next time, Autocar research has revealed.
Petrol is set to dominate the market with 60% of buyers predicted to opt for unleaded – while more than a sixth are set to swap from a diesel to a hybrid or electric car at their next purchase.
Those are just some of the statistics uncovered by an Autocar survey, which highlights motorists’ fears over emissions and pollution in the wake of headline-grabbing scandals such as Volkswagen Dieselgate and rising penalties for older diesels entering major cities.
More than 1,000 motorists were polled by leading advisors Simpson Carpenter on behalf of Autocar, and of those surveyed, 38% percent were current diesel owners, with 60% owning a petrol car and 17% owning a hybrid or electric vehicle. Of the current diesel owners, over half plan to defect to a petrol or a hybrid/electric vehicle. That’s in stark contrast to petrol owners, 78% of whom said they would stick with their current fuel choice.
There is now a growing acceptance of alternative-fuelled cars, with 17% of buyers indicating their next car would be hybrid or electric and 22% of diesel owners suggesting they will switch to EV. Buyers also predicted that across the new and used car markets, sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles will come at the expense of diesel, not petrol.
These findings are already being backed up by figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) which showed that diesel registrations in May this year fell 20% year-on-year. A total of 81,489 diesels were registered in the month, compared with more than 101,000 in May 2016.
The overwhelming reason given for not buying a diesel was fears over pollution and emissions, with 73% saying that would put them off. Uncertainty over what a diesel car might be worth in future was the second biggest headache, with 41% of those surveyed saying they were concerned about residual values.
Perception of diesel as a fuel that’s detrimental to air quality has also made it into public consciousness. Diesel is seen as more harmful to the environment than petrol (65% to 17%), as emitting the most CO2 (by 54% to 28%) – despite diesel having played a huge role in reducing vehicle CO2 since 2000 – and the most NOx and particulates (by 63% to 19%).
Such is the level of damage done to diesel’s reputation by the last few years’ scandals that motorists perceive even brand new Euro 6-compliant diesels as generally more polluting than their petrol-engined equivalents. But when respondents were asked to rank the fuel on its urban pollution impact, the blame was placed squarely on delivery trucks/vans, buses and taxis with diesels in fourth place. Minicabs, petrol cars, trains and trams respectively completed the finishing order.
Despite fears over the fuel, there is still a high level of resistance to introducing measures to penalise diesel owners. When asked about four proposed policies, only one received majority of support: banning older diesels from city centres. That proposal was backed by 56% of motorists, but 68% were opposed to a complete ban on diesels from city centres. A scrappage scheme for owners of older diesels was seen as more popular, with 74% backing a program that would allow owners to trade such a model in for a completely new car that met latest emissions standards.
Autocar editor Mark Tisshaw said: “These findings are a testament to the public battering diesel has taken over the last few years. We’ve already seen figures showing a diesel sales slowdown but what is clear from this survey is that there will be a major shift towards petrol, hybrid and electric cars.
“While some vilification of diesel is justified, there is a major gulf between the perception and the reality. It is concerning that the majority of buyers now believe diesel is a wholly dirty fuel, pumping out the most CO2 and NOx into the atmosphere. The reality of modern Euro 6 diesels is very different.
“Diesels have done a great job in reducing CO2. Figures from the SMMT indicate that CO2 emissions are over 30% lower than in 2000. Particulates and NOx, while justifiably a hot topic, have been dramatically reduced in modern diesels. Sadly, scandals like Volkswagen Dieselgate have eroded public faith and, despite upcoming real world, impartial testing programmes such as the Worldwide harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure designed to restore conviction, it is difficult to see the situation changing.
“As this survey has indicated, the beneficiaries – outside of petrol of course – are set to be hybrids and electric cars, which means this could finally be the tipping point for EV take-up. But in the meantime, Autocar certainly doesn’t subscribe to the view that diesel should be dumped. At the heart of this debate is how and where you use your car. And as we’ve outlined below, diesel certainly still has a major role to play.”
Diesel engine DOs:
- Do think about the kind of driving you do. Diesels, even older models, are fine if you don’t drive in high-pollution areas.
- Do consider an electric or hybrid if you have a two-car family fleet. Your second car can be a diesel. You may find your EV’s smoothness makes it your first choice.
- Do spread the word that better times are imminent for diesels, brought by stringent standards and a better testing process.
- Do study the facts about diesel and air pollution, and pass them on. Disinformation has the potential needlessly to threaten jobs and cripple an important industry.
Diesel engine DON’Ts:
- Don’t get the idea that criticism of diesel cars is all wrong. There are at least seven levels of car diesel ‘cleanliness’. Only recent versions can truthfully be termed clean.
- Don’t abandon making your next car a modern diesel, though. Diesel sales are helping to deliver vital targets for lowering CO2 and reducing global warning.
- Don’t accept assertions that steps already taken to cut toxic emissions and CO2 have not worked. There are figures to show they have. But there’s much more to do.
- Don’t presume that all diesels are bad. The latest types, for reasons listed, can be much cleaner and safer.