In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal where the car giant admitted installing software in diesel cars to ensure it passed stiff American emissions tests, you could be forgiven for thinking the days of diesel powered cars are nigh…
Yet diesel cars still account for a third of all cars on the road, around 50% of new car sales and their drivers clock up 118 billion miles every year, on average 60% more miles than petrol drivers (source: SMMT).
Meanwhile the SMMT’s data from 2002-14 shows average fuel use for new cars in the UK would be 11% higher – amounting to an extra £315 million per year in fuel bills for British drivers if there were no diesel.
There has also been widespread debate about the impact of VW’s emissions cheating software on UK motorists. We won’t delve into the detail here, but whilst the UK, as well as a number of other countries, said they will launch their own investigations, there is no real information to draw upon.
Britain, as have the rest of Europe, enjoyed a love affair with diesel powered cars which has accounted for their popularity. There has been much analysis of the diverging markets of Japan and the USA which has favoured hybrid technology in the past decade and questions have been raised over why Europe did not follow a similar path. Our governments were fixated on reducing CO2 emissions and until recently had overlooked harmful diesel emissions although manufacturers have introduced a series of technology advances which have made today’s diesel cars the cleanest yet.
The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has attempted to bring some balance to the question of diesel although its message has largely been lost in the current climate. Its diesel ‘factsheet’ states that between Euro 1, introduced in 1993, and the latest Euro 6 regulations, particulate matter has dropped 96% and is now the equivalent to one grain of sand per kilometre driven and high tech filters capture 99% of all soot particles and exhaust after-treatments which has seen nitrogen oxides or NOx down by 84% since 2000.
Not surprisingly, though, consumers are wary and it’s the dealers who are suffering. And not just Volkswagen franchised dealers, there’s a large diesel used car market and car buyers are already behaving more cautiously and asking questions, many of which can’t be answered, at least not at the moment.
One of Carvue’s customers is Prestige Diesels in Portsmouth and as the name suggests this small independent dealer, is a diesel specialist. One of the company’s partners is Alexis Cassey and she has been interviewed by The Daily Telegraph and BBC News following the Volkswagen revelations. She points out that consumers are, quite rightly, asking questions about the future value of their VW vehicle, and in the recent past, it has been relatively straightforward to provide a figure based on age, mileage and condition, but now, with a market that’s literally up in the air, it’s practically impossible.
Alexis said: “There’s so much uncertainty at the moment and our business has quietened although, ironically, after appearing on BBC news, a customer decided to come and buy his diesel from us! People are asking about future values and we just don’t have any answers so they are being extremely cautious about buying Volkswagens. We sell very few Volkswagens and focus on BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but it is definitely having a knock on effect.
“There are so many questions which remain unanswered. What will happen when people’s PCP agreements come to an end, for example? Will more motorists decide to just hand back diesel cars which will create a glut and therefore impact value even further?
“How can we sell a product when we can’t give any assurances about its resale value?”
The sales of diesels were already under pressure before the VW debacle and this will almost certainly have a further impact on sales, certainly in the short term. In May, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was told to come up with new plans to tackle nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels by the end of this year by Britain’s Supreme Court. And it is owners of diesel cars and trucks who are likely to be hit hardest with charges and depreciating values. The government’s plans to ensure it meets its emissions levels include charging diesel owners to drive into city centres, it will come into effect in London in 2020, but other major cities have also been earmarked.
However, whether it marks the end for diesel is another matter. The average age of vehicles on the UK’s roads is now seven and as cars become more reliable and cash conscious consumers look at ways to shave costs, diesels will undoubtedly be on our roads for many years to come
In fact, Alexis believes we can’t afford to give up on diesel, she said: “For many people there is no choice between diesel or petrol cars, they need to drive the most economical car because they simply can’t afford the luxury of anything else. Most people commute to work and a significant proportion drive several miles. Petrol is fine if you are pottering around town but if you have to drive a fair distance, diesel is so much cheaper. I think there is a future for diesel vehicles, but at the moment it looks very much like it’s just a case of wait and see whether you’re a customer or a dealer.”
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