Diesel car sales continue to plunge – far outweighing the rise in petrol sales

Publications that covered this story include: The i on 28 June 2019.
  • Battery electric cars see biggest jump in sales – up 41% in a year
  • 3,200 new Teslas registered this year – down 24% on last year

Diesel car sales in the UK fell by another 242,000 in just the last year, from 930,000 to 688,000, far outweighing the 131,000 rise in petrol car sales, our research shows.

The diesel emissions scandal and subsequent ‘demonization of diesel’ has now led to two consecutive years of sharply falling diesel car sales, with this year’s 26% decline matching the 26% fall in 2017/18. Petrol sales were up by 10% in the past year.

The 688,000 diesel cars sold in the past year represent just over half the 1.27 million sold in 2015/16, prior to the diesel emissions scandal. In the wake of that scandal, several taxes and charges were introduced to discourage diesel car purchases, including increases in car tax and company car tax for diesel cars, and a £12.50 daily charge for most diesel cars to enter the London’s new ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’.

The biggest jump in new car sales in the past year has been seen among battery electric vehicles – ‘pure’ electric vehicles that use no fossil fuels at all. This category saw sales rise 41% from 13,000 in 2017/18 to 18,500 in 2018/19.

3,200 of these battery electric cars were registered by Tesla in the past year, down 24% from 4,200 in the previous year.

The first quarter of 2019 saw the biggest-ever quarter for sales of battery electric vehicles, with 7,000 new vehicles registered. The primary driver was the popularity of Nissan’s new Leaf model.

Hybrid electric models, such as the Toyota Prius, saw sales rise another 26% to 92,000 in the past year. The category now makes up 4% of all new cars sold.

Paul Daly, automotive partner in our Manchester office, says: “Diesel sales have now almost halved in the two years since the emissions scandal – this has changed the landscape of new car sales completely.”

“Between the negative perceptions of diesel engines among buyers, and the Government’s moves to discourage diesel through tax, it’s unlikely that diesel sales will recover in the foreseeable future.”

“This is a shame, as the latest Euro 6 diesels actually make a compelling environmental case, especially for higher mileage drivers”

“Manufacturers and dealerships will have hoped that petrol sales would make up for the shortfall, but that simply hasn’t happened.”

“The accelerating sales growth of battery electric vehicles is great for the small number of manufacturers who have a credible challenger in that market. However, that market is still only a tiny fraction of new car sales overall.”

“The real disruptor to the market at present remains hybrids, and battery electric vehicles still have a big gap to close to change that.”

* Year end March 31 2019. Source: Department for Transport