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.
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.
“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.”
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.”