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How the diesel debate is fuelling consumer uncertainty

The diesel debate is heating up and the last 90 days have seen a flurry of announcements, reports, research and opinion to further stoke the discussion.

They say a week is a long time in politics but the last three months must have seemed like an eternity for diesel car owners as they were hit with a dizzying array of messages from those on all sides of the diesel debate.

The result is increased consumer uncertainty – respected weekly motoring publication Auto Express reports that concerns over whether to buy diesel is now its most regular query from readers – as motorists’ wrestle with the ‘ditch the diesel’ dilemma.

How the diesel debate is fuelling consumer uncertainty

So how has the last 90 days to fired up the diesel debate and has it provided clarity or confusion for the concerned consumer?


Back in March the picture looked far more settled for diesel owners as British car buyers registered almost a quarter of a million new diesel cars – an all-time record high.

The surge was mainly driven by consumers seizing the chance to buy cars before the new vehicle excise duty (VED) rates came into force, but it still showed a strong market confidence in diesel vehicles – a calm before the impending storm of the months ahead.

The storm clouds began to gather for diesel in April as London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans for new ultra-low emission zones. Under the proposals a £12.50 charge – on top of the existing congestion charge – will be imposed from April 2019 in central London for petrol cars that do not meet Euro 4 standards and diesel vehicles that do not meet Euro 6 standards.

In a double whammy for diesel owners, legislators revealed that a so called ‘toxin tax’ was also under consideration with a proposal to impose a levy of £20 a day on polluting vehicles across designated UK cities.


The heat was turned up further on diesel drivers at the beginning of May as the Government published its draft clean air plan in response to concerns about the impacts of diesel vehicles on the environment and people’s health.

The key recommendations included a ‘targeted scrappage scheme’ to take 15,000 diesel and older petrol cars off the road and replace them with electric cars, retrofitting buses, trucks and selected other vehicles with devices to limit their NO2 emissions and a large-scale increase in clean air zones (CAZS).

Set against this backdrop it was no surprise to see a diesel dip with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reporting a 20% drop in the number of diesel cars registered in May in the UK – an overall fall in market share of 50% to 43.7%.


Into June and motoring magazine Autocar unveiled its diesel survey, a comprehensive quizzing of a 1000 motorists on their attitudes towards diesel engines.

The survey produced some alarming findings for diesel cars with only 23% of motorists quizzed planning to buy a diesel as their next car and more than half of all diesel owners looking to switch to another fuel type.

When asked to give reasons why they would not buy a diesel engine., the biggest percentage response cited concerns about air pollution and emissions, fairly closely followed by those worried about re-sale values.

Tom Simpson, managing director of Simpson Carpenter, the research company which commissioned the survey on behalf of Autocar, said: “Car owners are predicting a major change in their buying behaviour. If they follow through on these intentions, it will give the industry a real headache.

“Concern about future resale values is very important – and it’s a fear that can affect those who are less concerned about the environment and spread the move away from diesel.”

The Auto Car survey also revealed 63% of motorists to be in favour of a scrappage scheme that would swap diesel cars for electric vehicles. In the recent Queens’ Speech the Government announced through its new Automated and Electric Vehicles, an expansion of electric charging points across the UK that could help facilitate such a scrappage scheme.

So is the death knell now sounding for diesel?

Well not according to the UK’s largest car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, whose Managing Director Jeremy Hicks came out in defence of the under-fire diesel as recently as the end of June.

As a response to the diesel debate, Jaguar Land Rover commissioned a study of public knowledge and attitudes on diesel and concluded that the car-buying public didn’t know the facts about latest generation diesel engines or wider issues around pollution.

Jeremy Hicks, said: “Half of car drivers think that road transport is most responsible for urban pollution. That is not true. For example, commercial and household properties produce more than half of the particulates polluting our cities.

“More than half of drivers don’t know what Euro 6 standards means. Almost a third don’t know whether the Co2 emissions we want to curb should be attributed to petrol or diesel engines. It is the same when it comes to Nox.”

“The impression is being given that all diesels are the same – and it causes confusion and creates false impressions.

“Here is the truth. If you care about air quality in our cities there is nothing wrong with buying a modern diesel car.”

The diesel debate is set to rage on

A critical fork in the road is set to emerge at the end of July, when the Government unveils its final Clean Air Plan.

Any sort of scrappage scheme or increased penalties imposed upon diesel cars, could see the current ripples in the market turn into a seismic surge as motorists are given definitive reason to ditch their diesel cars.

It all makes for interesting times ahead with the next three months expected to provide a clearer glimpse into our motoring future.


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