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The Future of Diesel Cars – Q&A

The future of diesel cars?

Read the mainstream press and you could be forgiven for thinking that the future of diesel cars looks bleak. The problem is that some mainstream journalists don’t understand cars – the technology or the market – and as a result there’s a lot of misinformation around. Here we separate the facts from the fiction.

1.Why is everyone talking about diesel?

Poor air quality has become a big issue in cities around the globe, and one of the sources of the air pollution that has been targeted is the fleet of diesel-engined vehicles that fill urban streets. That fleet is made up of buses, lorries and private cars, and governments around the world have decided to take action to clean things up.

When the debate started we kept hearing about 40,000 people dying prematurely in the UK because of poor air quality, a figure since debunked ( But the fact remained; the pace at which transport is cleaned up needs to be accelerated as quickly as possible.

The government was already encouraging new-car buyers into hybrids and electric cars (known as AFVs, or alternatively fuelled vehicles) with an up to £4,500 grant. The grant is the carrot; next come the sticks, with the supposed announcement of a petrol and diesel car ban by 2040.

To improve local air quality local authorities have also been told to come up with their own schemes, and with diesel engines said to be one of the key contributors in the generation of nitrogen oxide and particulates, those will bear the brunt of any measures. These schemes have to be drawn up by March 2018 and are likely to include restrictions on car use or charges to drive in urban environments, and greater use of public transport – even though buses and trains are generally diesel-powered, as are all the lorries that deliver our goods.

2.What’s the future of diesel cars looking like?

Around the world, governments started to announce bans on diesel-engined cars in some cities – and sometimes bans on petrol-engined cars too. In the case of the UK government it announced a petrol and diesel car ban by 2040 – or did it? Actually, no. What it said is that by 2040 only hybrids and electric cars will be allowed – and a hybrid can be powered by a petrol or diesel engine.

What the government has banned is the sale of new non-electrified cars from 2040. That means any car that doesn’t have electric assistance won’t be allowed, but in 23 years’ time all cars are likely to be electrified anyway; Volvo will be there within two years. But the company has said that it won’t offer pure-electric cars because the technology isn’t viable yet for most consumers.

In the short term other sanctions are likely to be imposed. Diesel will probably be taxed at a higher rate than petrol, a surcharge could be applied to the Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) and it’s likely that owners of diesel cars will be charged more to enter the Low Emissions Zones that will spring up all over the place in urban environments. Parking charges may also be increased; Westminster already imposes a £2.45 per hour surcharge to park a pre-2015 diesel car. That’s 50% more than an equivalent petrol-engined car or AFV.

3.Will this affect the value of my diesel car?

The demand for diesels is still very healthy and values are refusing to drop. In fact, over the first half of 2017 diesel-engined cars depreciated at a slightly faster rate (2%) than is normal but have now stabilised, which just goes to show how demand continues to match supply. September’s used sales volumes clearly showed that motorists favoured diesel over petrol fuelled vehicles (by 50.9%). The overall diesel share of the sales market is actually higher this year compared to last year.

4.What is the diesel scrappage scheme?

When the government announced there’d be a diesel car ban by 2040 (which isn’t actually a ban, remember), one of the measures that was touted to help improve air quality was a scrappage scheme for older, dirtier diesels. The government dismissed the idea saying that such a scheme would offer poor value for money.

It may be that a targeted scheme is introduced at some point but it’s unlikely now that most of the mainstream car makers have taken it upon themselves to introduce their own scrappage schemes. In most cases the cars that are traded in on this scheme will be scrapped, but not all; some will be returned to the road.

Predictably, those scrappage schemes vary from one manufacturer to another in other ways. Not all of them are restricted to diesels, there might be restrictions on which new car you can buy (in terms of CO2 emissions, cost, model range) and other factors include how long you’ve owned the car you’re trading in as well as how old it is. Also, while the trade-in value of your car is theoretically fixed, how much you’re given for it will depend on which new car you buy. If it’s a model that isn’t in demand or is high-value you’ll get more for it than if you want the latest model that everybody else also wants.

5.Should I buy a diesel car?

Even before all this talk of a diesel car ban became commonplace there were lots of things to consider when choosing between diesel vs petrol (along with electric or hybrid). Fuel economy was the driving factor for many owners but you have to remember that if you choose a diesel car you’ll pay more for it (new or used).

If you’re buying according to your eco conscience, diesel can still make sense if you buy a Euro 6 model. All new cars sold since September 2015 must be Euro 6-compliant which means they’re just about as clean as their petrol counterparts – it’s the earlier diesels that are much dirtier.

Diesels are also undeniably more economical and if you’re buying a big car you could find the fuel bills crippling if you opt for petrol. Also, you can buy only what’s out there and trying to find a used petrol-engined large car (saloon, estate, MPV or SUV) can be a thankless task as there’s been little demand for them until now.

In short, there are so many factors to take into account that the subject of whether or not you should buy petrol or diesel deserves an article of its own.

Richard Dredge

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