Diesel sales start to slide as drivers turn back to petrol

Emissions scandals finally affecting diesel-powered car sales in Ireland and Europe

Much publicity over the prospects of city-centre bans for diesel-engined cars in France and Germany won’t have helped diesel’s case. Photograph: Getty Images

Much publicity over the prospects of city-centre bans for diesel-engined cars in France and Germany won’t have helped diesel’s case. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Eight months on from the revelations of diesel emissions cheating, and with black clouds of suspicion hovering over such companies as Opel, VW and Fiat, the sales of diesel-engined cars in Europe has begun to slide.

The changes are only very slight at the moment, but they could be the beginning of a major move back towards petrol power and a parallel move towards alternative and electric power.

While European car tax regimes have overwhelmingly favoured diesel for the past two decades (thanks to its lower emissions of climate-changing CO2), the scandals which have revealed major car companies sidestepping regulations over nitrogen oxide emissions (which are a major health hazard) seems to be turning buyers away from the black pump.

Much publicity over the prospects of city-centre bans for diesel-engined cars in France and Germany won’t have helped diesel’s case.

According to the latest figures from LMC Automotive, diesel’s overall market share in western Europe fell by 2.2 per cent to 50.1 per cent in the first four months of this year. In April alone, diesel sales fell by 3.1 per cent, which presumably is far from coincidental to the fact that car makers other than VW were being drawn into the scandal in that month.

Smaller cars in particular are seeing buyers turn back to petrol power, while the decline was smaller in larger models, where petrol engines have so far not been able to claw back the efficiency gap to diesel.

However, LMC predicts that sales of plug-in hybrids may begin to climb, now that the German government has announced subsidies for such vehicles.

As recently as last year’s Tokyo motor show, VW brand chief executive Herbert Diess was telling reporters that “we still believe in the future of diesel engines because they are in the trade-off of emissions and CO2, they are a very good option for many vehicles.”

The fact that VW is planning to create 20 new all-electric and plug-in hybrid models in the next four years, as well as make a massive investment in a battery factory, may indicate that such a grá for diesel may be waning. Speaking to Reuters, and discussing the future of petrol-electric and plug-in hybrids, Koei Saga, Toyota’s head of powertrain development, continued his company’s long- held distaste for diesel. “It’s hard to see diesel becoming a mainstream solution,” he said.

The slide in diesel sales is beginning to happen in Ireland too, but thus far, it’s at a very low level. In the first four months of 2016, diesel-engined sales climbed by just under 3,000 units, a 24 per cent increase on the same period last year.

Petrol-engined cars did increase their sales by a greater margin, though – by 5,500 units, up 27 per cent.

Diesel still commands an overwhelming 70 per cent of the car market here, though, as compared to 71 per cent in 2015. Electric cars and plug-in hybrids account for just 2 per cent of the market overall, although there have been some considerable increases in sales. Petrol-electric hybrid sales doubled to just over 1,400 units so far in 2016, while petrol-electric plug-in hybrid sales more than doubled, albeit from just 49 sales to 125 sales.

Pure electric sales fell slightly, from 286 to 273 so far.