10 jan 18

Diesel sales decline by 17% in UK amid rising air quality pressures

The unrelenting pressure on diesel in the UK intensified this week the publication of a new study on air quality.


The study is based on data from a project that aims to map nitrogen dioxide (NOx) concentrations across the country. Its initial findings identified two roads in London to be the most polluted in the UK, and three-quarters of the areas with the worst air quality are in the capital.


Diesel vehicles are a principal source of local NOx emissions, which are blamed for causing respiratory diseases and damaging the life expectancy of thousands of people every year. The new analysis by Earthsense also found rural locations near motorways and major roads suffer from poor air quality.


Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have twice mounted successful legal challenges against the British Government for failing to deal with illegal pollution urgently, and is due to take the Government back to court on 25 January 2018.


“Everyone knows that charging clean air zones are the only way to solve the problem of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities and the government needs to mandate them and focus on giving people a helping hand in moving to cleaner forms of transport,” said Alan Andrews, ClientEarth’s clean air lawyer.


Earlier this week, ClientEarth published an independent survey which revealed that more than half (52%) of the British public support charges for more polluting vehicles to enter parts of towns and cities. The same survey showed that almost three-quarters (71%) of the British public think the UK car industry should help to fund efforts to clean up the country’s illegal levels of air pollution.


This mounting anti-diesel sentiment is reflected in UK new car sales, where diesel sales fell by -17.1% in 2017, compared to 2016, down to 1,065,879 registrations (2016: 1,285,188), according to official figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Petrol was the principal winner, increasing its sales by 2.7% and boosting its market share to 53.3% in 2017 (2016: 49%). The UK is one of the few European markets where petrol sales outstrip diesel.


Electric and hybrid sales also enjoyed impressive growth, up 34.8% in 2017, although their numbers remain relatively small at 119,821 registrations.


Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “Confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car. Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals. Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.”


UK fleet sales slipped by 4.5% last year to 1,319,193 units (2016: 1,380,750), but fleet’s market share was up slightly to 51.9% after a sharper decline in private car sales. Overall, the UK new car market totalled 2,540,617 registrations, the third highest on record, but down on the previous two years.


“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll,” said Hawes. “The decline in the new car market is concerning.”

Authored by: Jonathan Manning