By on April 5, 2018

After four years of consecutive growth, the United Kingdom’s automotive market has tanked for 12 months straight. The culprit is, of course, dwindling diesel sales.

Thanks to European governments latching onto the fuel as the cleaner alternative to “petrol” throughout the 1990s (subsequently incentivizing the fuel as a way to meet aggressive CO2-reduction targets), diesel-powered autos accounted for roughly half of all new auto sales between 2009 and 2017 . But diesel is now “evil” and everyone in Europe has started avoiding it.

In March, diesel sales declined by 37.2 percent — leaving the once dominant fuel with just 32 percent of the new car market. Unsurprising, as the new trend in Europe is the widespread (future) banning of the fuel in city centers. April’s sales are expected to be even lower, as the British government’s new taxes on diesel vehicles come into effect. Those fees and a weakened pound, which practically everyone has attributed to Brexit, forced new car sales in the UK down by 16 percent. 

While February fared slightly worse, seeing a 17 percent decline, the general consensus was that March would perform much better. However, that was not to be the case. It’s not just the country’s market that’s taking a beating, either. Production matched the sales shortfall in the same month — down 17 points. In fact, the U.K.’s auto production volume has shrunk for almost eight months now. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) cited British year-to-date production for the home market as down by almost 12 percent through February.

With environmental pressures and consumer confusion on the rise throughout Europe, it’s unlikely to see diesel cars making a comeback. Politicians are extremely focused on air quality issues and have taken to vilifying diesel — the same fuel governments unilaterally endorsed a decade earlier. Consumers are now worried about diesel bans and how strict emissions regulations might affect their next purchase. There are even proposals that the European government should employ a federal vehicle scrapping scheme to get diesels off the road and encourage the public to buy new vehicles.

“The decline in demand for diesel cars continues to be of concern and the latest tax changes announced by the government do nothing to encourage consumers to exchange their older diesel vehicles for new lower emission models,” Mike Hawes, chief executive of the SMMT told the Financial Times this week. “All technologies, regardless of fuel type, have a role to play in helping improve air quality whilst meeting our climate change targets, so government must do more to encourage consumers to buy new vehicles rather than hang onto their older, more polluting vehicles.”

Hold on there, Mike. Unless someone is buying a vehicle that gets vastly superior gas mileage (or sources its electric energy from renewable resources), it’s usually better for the environment to hold onto that beater. We know the SMMT is honor-bound to promote new car purchases, but let’s at least get the facts straight.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

30 Comments on “The British Car Market Is Flushing Itself Down the Loo; Industry to Follow?...”

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    Just don’t crush all the JTDm Alfa 159’s and Breras before they are 15 years old so I can import one.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The UK should sue VW for damages to its economy.

  • avatar

    This should be a lesson for all those who think highly of government wisdom on environmental issues. Just wait – in 10 years they will be telling us EVs are bad for the environment because of dirty batteries or coal powered electricity. Or perhaps they will be warning us about global cooling and the need to burn more carbon fuels to save the planet.

    • 0 avatar

      Those governments also relied on numerous bulls**t assurances from auto manufacturers that they could make “clean” diesel engines.

      Therefore, I’d add “don’t believe what corporations say” to your cautionary tale list.

      • 0 avatar

        @FM And if the cheating is a result of arbitrary and unrealistic emissions requirements put in place by people who have no background in physics, chemical kinetics, or engineering? I’m not condoning the cheats but with the minuscule PPM requirements before and after the SCR systems came into play, it’s a silent protest in my eyes.

    • 0 avatar

      “Or perhaps they will be warning us about global cooling and the need to burn more carbon fuels to save the planet.”

      Have you been reading my fanfics?

    • 0 avatar

      There’s no reason to think that the decision to endorse diesel engines was not deliberate. Politicians may be incompetent, but not so incompetent that they didn’t know about NOx, so the increase in NOx emissions must be something they wanted (even if they were completely unaware about VW’s extraordinary efforts to help their cause).

      So why did politicians do it? Probably to create a pretext for the bans we’re now seeing. Politicians in general hate cars and the freedom they bring to the voting cattle, so they needed a way to make cars look bad. And what better way to do it these days than to play the CO2 card to lure their voters to buy a diesel car, and then place usage restrictions on those cars afterwards “for environmental reasons”?

    • 0 avatar

      The is such a thing as getting wiser, people commonly experience it, why can’t the government which consist of people?

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    There was a change to the way vehicles are taxed in early 2017 which had a big impact on sales. Since many new car purchases are for company fleets and Brexit may put many companies out of business it is hardly surprising sales are still poor. Nevertheless, don’t write off diesel yet – there are developments coming that may make them cleaner at an affordable price.

  • avatar

    Politicians are busy vilifying diesels while all the things that incentivize them are still in place, except for bans on them.

    As a European car buyer, yeah what’s there to be confused about??

    Owners of diesels must feel betrayed, because they were. 10,000 euro rebate on a new car for current diesel owners would go a long way towards making things right, if not a complete buyout.

    You couldn’t ask for a better clusterfuk. Then there’s the health related disaster..

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    When I was in Ireland 10 years ago the hot rental cars were all Diesel-powered. I had to make do with a fantastic Ford Mondeo with a slick 5-speed and what felt and sounded like a zingy 4-holer ( couldn’t ascertain as the ‘bonnet’ was bolted down ). It was one of the best cars I’ve ever driven. Bugger Diesel, IMHO.

  • avatar

    And we were considered to be stupid Americans because of ignoring diesels. Go figure, Europeans turn out are not as smart as previously thought.

  • avatar

    The laws of Unintended Consequences rule the earth. Politicians sometimes think they can sidestep this truth.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I really don’t believe this article is a good piece of journalism. Here’s the French car sales data and remember the French have taken a stance against diesel and they are more diesel reliant in the their vehicle fleet than the UK.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I do believe this article is not The Truth About Cars.

    I google why the current decline in British auto sales and I’m continually coming up with Brexit as the reason, not diesel. Only ONE link out of the dozen of so I saw mentioned “diesel”.

    Now I do believe in integrity and transparency in authoring article for this site. But this article appears to be a fncking joke.

    I don’t see the complete correlation between the sales drop and attitude towards change with diesel. There would be some, but not to the extent we are seeing.


    “Britain is set to experience a two-year fall in car sales of around 11 per cent in total, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has warned.
    The trade body on Friday said that British carmakers were pleading for an end to uncertainty over the next (transitional) phase of Brexit and were pushing for an agreement between the EU and the UK to be struck by the end of the first quarter of 2018.”


    “British car buyers are running out of gas.
    New car sales in the U.K. slumped in 2017, down nearly 6% from record levels in 2016. And Brexit is taking much of the blame for the first annual decline since 2011.”

    I’d say this might have a far greater effect on UK Vehicles sales than the diesel issue;

    • 0 avatar

      I think this article is rather disingenuous. Britain never had anything like the fuel tax advantage for diesel over petrol that many mainland European countries did (and in none of them was it gigantic anyway, just at their prices every little bit helped), and Britain never had the market penetration for diesels that other countries had.

      It was not the heavy hand of government promoting them, it’s that for a given level of fuel consumption, prior to DI gasoline engines diesels simply had much better performance and were nicer to drive. When you pay $6-8+/gallon, that is the overriding concern for buyers. The Europeans also largely did not care as much about NoX historically because they don’t really have an LA where smog is a hellacious issue due to geography. CO2 was the big bug bear of late, and diesel delivered on that.

      I spent the summer of ’92 in Budapest when the majority of cars were still smoke-spewing Trabbies and Wartburgs and the air quality still wasn’t as bad as LA when I went there for the first time in the mid 90’s.

      Finally, while VW may have cheated, even those cheating diesels were just massively cleaner than something like an old Mercedes 240D. They just didn’t meet a massively tighter standard for NoX emissions. But in every other way they are cleaner than the old smoke belchers with no emissions controls at all other than the mixture adjustment.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        I really think the managing editor needs to look at the political bias that is presented on this site. The omission of articles denouncing some of the fallout from the new current US regime is overlooked more so than the support given.

        The site is quick to point out and highlight US vehicle export deficiencies, but will not ridicule things like US vehicle design, protection of large vehicles etc.

        British industry was the same until the EU and other manufacturers became more involved in British manufacturing.

        As well as a declining vehicle market, the British will also lose vehicle manufacturing jobs to the Continent.

        The site is called The Truth About Cars and it should be so, from vehicle reviews to politics.

        The truth is politics play a huge role in the shape of every nations vehicle makeup. Sometimes the direction a country takes, whether by pressure from unions or lobbying by manufacturers can have long lasting ill effects in the industry.

        The British are soon going to find out that “UK Alone” might also include a drop in the standard of living as will the “US Alone, MAGA” crowd will find out.

        Oh, you will have your independence, but it will cost. Things will not be as they were.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Oh, talking diesel’s decline can also be attributed to inflation outstripping income.

        Even in the EU diesels are a far more expensive proposition to step into.

        As people’s income decline I would think more would opt for petrol vs diesel as it’s the cheaper intitial outlay.

        • 0 avatar

          While you guys are desperately scrambling for other reasons or “truths”, you’re skirting the obvious.

          It comes down to “choices”.

          Once you’ve ruled-out diesels from your next purchase, and gas/petrol choices are currently very limited or nonexistent in what you want, what are you gonna do?

      • 0 avatar

        @krhodes1: Britain had tax bands for the road tax: less than 99 g CO2 / km –> Zero road tax. Actually, only Toyota hybrids and many Diesel cars made it below that score.
        Basically, it was nudging people into Diesel cars. Labour started it, the Tories continued.

        That changed recently.

        Plus, company cars are a big issue. The amount of extra tax (benefits in kind) you pay for the personal use of your company car is calculated on the co2 basis. That lead to nudging company car users into 99 g/CO2 Diesel cars (think of a Honda Civic hatchback 1.6 Diesel manual, or Golf, Focus, or whatever). That changes, basically because HM Treasury needs a lot more money. The private use of corporate cars taxation rises and rises.

        That system looks to me somewhat overly complicated.

        In the UK, it simply becomes
        a) more expensive to buy a car (low Sterling / Brexit),
        b) more expensive to own a personal car (road tax),
        c) more expensive to drive a corporate car (BIK), and
        d) the good old Diesel swindle, and
        e) an (un)certain amount of Brexit pessimism

        Otoh, car sales in Germany are at a *record high* (with a very low Diesel percentage), because
        a) people fearfully ditch their old diesel cars (highly incentized by the VW group that owns roughly 50% of the market) to avoid driving restrictions (Hamburg will start blocking some streets for Euro 4 Diesels at the end of April , today the restrictions are for Euro 3 Diesels)
        b) the last Cash for Clunkers (Abwrackprämie / Umweltprämie) was in 2009, so those cars are starting to get phased out (mostly smallish cars were bought then, wear & tear shows earlier)
        c) the German economy works quite well – people are optimistic that they will be able to pay back their car loans

    • 0 avatar

      When first read the article, was very incredulous about the author simply blaming diesels falling out of favor.

      Auto sales have been in decline in the UK for some time where the EU has been seeing growth.

      Even for March, while Germany was 3.4% down, France and Spain were up 2%.

      That’s a far cry from the 16% drop for the UK.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Now, here’s an issue TTAC should of followed up on.

    • 0 avatar

      The US will get more manufacturing jobs because of the potential tariffs. Hopefully, TTAC will have an article soon.

      • 0 avatar

        It could also open the door to US cars, as the European market demands more gasoline and hybrid cars, at least until EU automakers can adapt to their own radically changing market.

      • 0 avatar

        On the flip side, the Germans are concerned about China adding an additional tariff on US built CUVs.

        BMW has already “diversified” X3 production by retooling its plant in South Africa instead of expanding X3 production here.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would say there will be more gas with hybrids in Europe. Once the favorable tax incentives are removed on both the diesel vehicle and the diesel fuel it will be less attractive for most Europeans to buy a diesel.

  • avatar

    Britannia flushed down the loo?

    You’ve gotta be kidding!

    They’ve got the Dyson Hoover’s to save them.

  • avatar

    Look at that pristine Mazda Protege up there!

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • OA5599: “Annalists?”
  • Lou_BC: @ToolGuy LOL good one and 21% oxygen.
  • Lou_BC: I find that mounting good tires, proper weight distribution, and intelligent driving will suffice most of the...
  • Lou_BC: Agreed. One saw that on carbureted motorcycles. They almost always had a bad lean spot in their jetting....
  • Lou_BC: @ajla. Correct. EU laws favoured small engines and diesels whereas US laws favoured big vehicles. Pickups...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber