The rise of diesel… Let’s park electric vehicles and self-driving cars, just for a moment. There has already been a revolution in motoring. It’s captured by the graph above. In 2000, registrations of new diesel cars in the United Kingdom were far outnumbered by registrations of petrol cars: there were just over 300,000 of the former, compared to almost 2 million of the latter. But by 2011 diesel had taken the lead, where it has remained ever since. The figures for last year are 1,240,287 to 1,184,409 in diesel’s favour.
…and its causes. Percentages probably do a better job of conveying this mass movement. Since 2000, diesel registrations have increased by 296 per cent, whereas petrol registrations have actually declined by 38 per cent. But what has caused it? There are many answers, including the readier supply of diesel cars, the improved performance of those cars… and so on. More remarkable than these reasons, however, are the words and deeds of politicians.
Brown versus CO2. “Diesel cars should attract less vehicle tax than their petrol equivalents because of [their] better CO2 performance.” So said Gordon Brown in 1998, when politicians were toiling to meet the targets set out in the Kyoto Treaty. By the time of the 2000 Budget he had established a new system of Vehicle Excise Duty that rated cars by their emissions: the higher the carbon dioxide, the higher the levy. This, and a handful of other tax policies, helped to push people into diesel cars.
The world versus NOx. Which is all well and good, right? Taxing something undesirable to save the planet? Except it turns out that diesel engines emit something undesirable too, and in greater quantities than petrol engines – namely, air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide. These aren’t just bad for the environment, they’re also bad for our health. Hence why various legislators, from the European Union to the Mayor of London, are starting to crack down on diesel. Those cars we bought over the past 15 years suddenly aren’t such a winning proposition.
But what will Osborne do? One particular legislator hasn’t yet really moved against diesel – and that is George Osborne. The new VED scheme that he revealed in July’s Budget still links the tax to CO2 emissions, just as Brown did. Is he going to ignore the Supreme Court’s insistent warnings? Or will diesel drivers soon be subjected to the worst of HMRC’s tortures? The Chancellor ought to be careful if it’s the latter. People have already been mis-sold diesel vehicles by Volkswagen. They probably won’t enjoy feeling like the Government did it too.