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Diesel Sales down by 20% in May – just a hiccup or the beginning of the end?

Lack of clarity from the government, new ultra-low emission zones, alarming reports on the consequences of diesel emissions for the planet and our health, VW scandal… the future looks bleak for diesel.

The tide appears to be turning on diesel engines as customers increasingly opt for petrol or more environmentally friendly options. Only 81,500 new diesel cars were registered in May in the UK (source: SMMT), a 20% dip versus May 2016. If second-hand car dealers follow suit and start reducing the number of diesel vehicles they hold in stock resale values could be hit hard.

We look at the key factors influencing the UK’s vehicle buying decision makers:

Diesel engines are damaging the environment and our health

Not so long ago diesels were touted as being more green than their petrol counterparts. However, demand for new diesel cars has decreased amid rising concerns over the environment and people’s health. 40,000 early deaths a year have been linked to air pollution. 37 out of 43 areas across the UK are exceeding the NO2’s legal EU limits.

Diesel vehicles don’t emit a lot of CO2, like their petrol counterparts, but they release high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). This is a toxic gas known for its irritating effects on the respiratory system; it has been linked to asthma, bronchitis, and is even thought to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Diesel vehicles’ exhausts also release particulate matter, which has been linked to serious illnesses, including cancer.

With the introduction of the latest Euro 6 regulation, modern diesel cars are cleaner. They are fitted with filters to trap the pollutants, but unfortunately, many drivers remove them – to increase performance and fuel economy. This is illegal, but a very common issue.

Regulations and charges

Despite the bad press, there are still some tax benefits to buying diesel cars. But the main cities are looking to implement schemes to rid the cities of polluting diesel vehicles – such as ULEZ in London, or the “Clean Air Zone Plan” in Manchester…

For 20 years, diesel has been considered the cleaner alternative, but not anymore. New Labour even gave drivers incentives to buy diesels via a lower tax rate in order to help CO2 emissions. Yet there’s now talk of toxicity charges and potential scrappage schemes.

This absence of clarity is leading more and more drivers to replace their diesel by a more eco-friendly option.

“Until there is clarity over where future tax incentives will lie, and what city centre charges will or won’t be imposed, diesel sales will remain under pressure.”

Jim Holder, editorial director of What Car? magazine

Resale Value

Resale value is a major concern for diesel drivers, who may struggle to sell the vehicle a few years down the line. And with potentially hefty emission charges coming in place soon, one can only wonder whether buying a diesel today is a safe option… or if it could end up being a very poor investment?

All might not be lost in the short to medium term as anyone covering a lot of motorway miles will still find the fuel efficiency of a diesel an attractive option. Also, Euro 6 models meet the proposed ULEZ standards.

So, what is the future of diesel? In May 2017, registrations of new petrol cars increased by just 0.4%, but sales of alternatively fuelled new cars rose by a staggering by 46.7%. Most countries are keen to remove all petrol and diesel engines from the roads by 2040, but this trend seems to suggest that diesel cars may be gone long before then.

Would you consider buying another diesel vehicle, whether for private or professional use?