Surprising and rising. What with the whole VW scandal and noxious talk of noxious emissions, who’d buy a diesel car now? Quite a lot of us, it turns out. The chart above compares last year’s registrations of new diesels (the light blue columns) with this year’s (dark blue). Don’t pay too much attention to its spikes and falls; that’s just how the car market goes, with more sales in March and September when new number plates are released. But please do look at the percentage changes written in green and red. In all but two months of this year the number of diesel registrations has increased since last year.
It’s the same as always… In fact, there have been 3.1 per cent more diesel registrations in the year-to-date than in the equivalent period last year. More diesel cars are being sold than ever before. But why? The main reason is probably that they’ve retained their basic attractions. Despite advances in the efficiency of petrol engines, diesel vehicles are still cheaper to run across long distances. This makes them particularly popular in the sizeable company car market.
…but different. Diesel has also had a couple of notable reprieves this year, which may have helped. First, George Osborne’s didn’t tax the fuel for its nitrogen dioxide content in his most recent Budget, even though he was urged to by everyone from Boris Johnson to the Supreme Court. And then – as shown in the bonus graph to the right, which you can click for a larger version – diesel prices fell below petrol prices for the first time since 2001. The situation has since turned round again, but diesel remains almost 6 per cent cheaper than it was at the beginning of the year.
The return of petrol cars. All that said, diesel’s fortunes aren’t unequivocally buoyant. When I wrote a To The Point post on this subject a few weeks ago, it was to highlight how, over the past decade-and-a-half, sales of diesel cars had caught up with petrol cars until they overtook them in 2011. But now petrol cars are back. In the year-to-date, petrol registrations accounted for 51.4 per cent of the market.
What next? So, diesel registrations are growing, but not as fast as petrol registrations. Could this be a tipping point? Perhaps – although diesel is proving rather durable amid all its various controversies. Its next test will come when, and if, politicians decide to start upping taxes and imposing other levies. Boris already has plans for in London. George Osborne, of course, has Budgets to come.