The UK government has announced plans to ensure all new cars are "effectively zero emission" by 2040. This could include a more ambitious plan to ban the sale of new all petrol and diesel cars by as early as 2035.
While the proposed changes are still some years away, the shorter-term future of diesel-fuelled cars seems uncertain.
The government proposals are just the latest actions that demonstrate the changing attitudes to diesel engines. According to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd (SMMT), registrations of diesel vehicles have dropped by 60% so far in 2020. This comes amid controversy around the fuel and its effect on the environment.
This compares with a drop in registrations of petrol vehicles of 47.5% and an increase of 161% for battery operated electric vehicles.
A new T-Charge came into force in London in October 2017 targeting diesel vehicles. In London this charge is now a £12.50 daily charge for driving the most polluting vehicles in certain parts of the city (that is on top of the £11.50 Congestion Charge).
This applies to designated parts of the city that form part of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and operates 24 hours a day every day except Christmas Day.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, from 22 June 2020, the Congestion Charge will temporarily increase to £15 and hours will be extended, operating from 07:00 to 22:00, seven days a week.
This is part of the government and Transport for London’s attempt to get more people walking or cycling to work. In addition to London’s charge, the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have pledged to ban diesel vehicles from their respective cities by 2025.
Following a further change to the rules on tax and electric cars in April 2020, all electric cars with zero emissions are now exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (also known as car tax). While some petrol and diesel car owners will have to pay a higher rate.
The latest actions to discourage motorists from using diesel prove the tide has turned against the fuel in recent years.
Between 2000 and 2017, the number of licensed cars in the UK increased from 24.4 million to 31.2 million. While this may be expected due to population growth and improved road infrastructure, the demand for diesel cars increased significantly, with the percentage of diesel engines increasing from 12.9% (3.2 million) to 39.7% (12.4 million) in this time.
Much of the popularity of diesel cars can be attributed to road tax incentives introduced by the government from 2001. The environmental focus in the early 2000s was to reduce carbon emissions, which led to a push away from petrol and towards diesel.
At the time, diesel cars were cheaper to run, cheaper to tax, and considered to be better for the environment than petrol cars. While CO2 emissions are indeed lower from diesel cars than from petrol cars, diesel engines produce four times as much nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulates. According to the European Environment Agency, nitrogen oxide emissions contribute to almost 12,000 deaths per year in the UK alone.
More recently, Euro Standards were brought into place to limit the emissions from vehicles. But it emerged that the ‘real world’ emissions of diesel engines were higher than indicated in lab tests.
The Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015 marked a turning point in attitudes towards diesel fuel. It emerged that the manufacturer had intentionally programmed the engines of its diesel cars to pass emissions tests, despite the cars’ real-world emissions significantly exceeding set limits.
In the UK, the emphasis and incentives from the government has been to encourage people to move towards buying greener cars by offering tax breaks to owners of new and existing electric vehicles. tax changes to new cars has further depressed demand for diesel vehicles, both new and secondhand.
From April 2020, all electric cars are now exempt from car tax. While the owners of some of the most polluting diesel vehicles might have to pay £2,175 for the first year they register the vehicle. After that, it's £150 a year to tax a petrol or diesel car.
While diesel cars are still a mainstream option, their popularity has been falling. The government has been trying to steer drivers away from diesel fuel by scrapping car tax on new electric vehicles and increasing the cost for some petrol and diesel vehicle owners.
Most manufacturers are still producing diesel models as a standard option, but car companies are taking note of the shifting attitude towards the fuel. Carmakers including Toyota, Volvo, Subaru, Suzuki, Bentley and Mitsubishi have already stopped the sale of new diesel cars, or have announced plans to do so.
Others have announced plans to phase out diesel options in new vehicles or have halted the development of new diesel engines.
If you're thinking of buying a diesel car it's worth considering the resale value of a diesel vehicle. If legislation and attitudes continue to change, demand for used diesel cars could plummet in years to come.
You may be weighing up the appeal of diesel cars versus petrol, or even thinking about switching to an electric car in the future, especially if the government introduces further incentives for greener cars.
Environmental factors and emissions figures will also provide food for thought for many people when deciding between diesel and alternative fuels for their next car. The future of diesel cars in the UK is likely to be a decline in demand for these types of vehicles and an increasing popularity of electric cars over diesel or petrol engines.
If you own a diesel car, you may decide to keep it for a while, even though the car tax rates are much higher than greener vehicles. In order to keep costs as low as possible, you can shop around for diesel car insurance. Using our comparison tool will enable you to find the best diesel car insurance for your needs, and one that offers the best value when you are looking to insurance your diesel car or van.