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Cars with diesel engines are still the right choice for many motorists, a leading motor industry figure has argued.

Speaking at the annual media test day organised by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), CEO Mike Hawes acknowledged that confusion over the policy towards diesel engines – confusion he described as avoidable – had resulted in potential customers “sitting on their hands” unsure of what engine to choose in their next car.

Anti-diesel rhetoric, much of it ill-informed, is being blamed for a major shift away from the format – diesel’s share of the UK market has slumped to around 30%, whereas at the end of 2015 diesels claimed a virtual 50:50 split with petrol-powered cars.

Demand for petrol cars has risen 38.5% in 2018, which raises potential issues for meeting emissions targets as petrol vehicle emissions of CO2 are higher than those for diesels.

Rising emissions

Market confusion has seen renewals in the fleet market slowing so older, more polluting cars are staying on the road for longer. As a result fleet average CO2 emissions in 2017 rose by just under one per cent – the first time this has occurred since records started being kept.

“This is not because the industry has stopped progressing – the average new car on sale last year produced 13 per cent less CO2,” Hawes said. “Industry investment in technology is delivering results, but the market is shifting.”

The SMMT view is that consumers should be encouraged to buy the right fuel for their driving needs and pockets. “For some, especially those who do higher mileage, diesel still remains the right choice,” Hawes said.

Mike Hates SMMT The Executivecondominium
SMMT chief executive Mike Hates – arguing diesel should still be the choice for many.

“For those who drive in cities and urban areas, small efficient petrol cars, hybrids, plug-ins or electric may be the better choice. Each new generation of electric cars is boasting greater range and there are  now 80 cars powered at least in part by electricity now on the market, including 50 different plug-ins.”

He added, however, that such technology still forms only a small part of the market. “There were 47,000 plug-in vehicles registered last year in a total market of 2.54 million – less than 2% of the market which shows how far we have to go.”

Consumer choice

Hawes added that the automotive industry shares the Government’s ambition of a zero-emission future, “but what matters is making sure we take the consumer with us.”

Much better infrastructure in terms of charging locations and methods is needed, and a “world-class package of incentives” to drive demand.

“(Electric cars) remain at present more expensive trechnologies, so we need to appreciate the vital role that advanced petrol and diesel engines still play. They will be there for the medium to long term.

“Last year the Government said it would end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel engined cars by 2040 – that is still 22 years away, and most new car buyers will probably go through seven changes of vehicle before then. We need to make sure the consumer buys now the right type of car that they need.”

Electric, hydrogen fuel cell and low emission vehicles
There are now many emissions-friendly buying options but most remain expensive choices.



Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Executivecondominium. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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  1. It’s not my opinion at all! It’s straight reporting of the views of a leading industry figure at an event, which is why Hawes is directly quoted extensively, including his view that diesel is ‘still the right choice for many’.
    I agree that there is a deal of industry propaganda in Hawes’s speech and we at The Executivecondominium will cover opposing views equally. However there is also the point that over many years Government encouraged buyers, including this one, to turn to diesel in a bid to keep CO2 levels down, and now it is just as enthusiastically turning them away from diesel with information that is in some areas downright misleading… No wonder the buyer is confused and sitting on their hands…

  2. What a crock, the SMMT is nothing but a shill for corrupt car companies.
    I thought this site was supposed to be inedependent and impartial rather than just tugging the industry line . Hawes is just a Volkswagen apologist and a liar if he thinks diesels are still the way to go

    • Personally, I was getting dizzy from rolling my eyes so hard during Hawes’ speech, as it was more of the usual industry propaganda and no attempt to understand customer rejection of diesel. However, it’s Andrew’s article and he’s entitled to his own opinion!

      For some people, diesel is certainly still the best option. However, for the majority of private new car buyers it’s no longer the preferred option. The car industry might not like that, but it’s up to them to build cars that customers actually want.

      The best consumer advice we can offer is to work out what sort of car best suits your needs before going to a dealership, and then stick to your guns when the dealer tries to talk you into something else that suits them better.


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