UK diesel car sales rise following electric car stumble

UK diesel car sales rise following electric car stumble



The UK's best-selling diesel model by far is the Land Rover Defender

Diesel sales rose 12% in December 2023, briefly interrupting a decline that began back in 2016

A stumble in the demand for electric cars in the UK could be benefiting diesel cars, at least in the short term, new data has shown.

In December 2023, EV sales fell 34%, while diesel car sales actually rose 12%, briefly interrupting a decline that began back in 2016. 

“When BEV does badly, combustion engines do better, but diesel does a little better than petrol,” said Al Bedwell, head of powertrain analysis at market researcher GlobalData.

The situation is even more pronounced in Germany. Last year, diesel car sales there rose 11% across the whole year, giving this fuel type a 24% share, according to GlobalData.

The linking factor is premium. Customers of larger, more expensive cars are still attracted to the properties of diesel, which has increasingly swung to premium brands as overall demand falls away.

Premium brands now account for 40% of all diesel sales in Europe, up from 30% in 2015, GlobalData figures show.

Bedwell told Autocar of a recent executive meeting at an unnamed company in which everyone in the room drove a diesel. “For high-speed long-distance driving, diesel still has no equal, and cars doing that type of driving tend to be premium, especially in Germany,” he said.

In the UK, diesel has nowhere near the share of Germany, at just 7.5% last year, but JLR (formerly Jaguar Land Rover) is now by far the biggest seller of diesels in the UK.

In fact, Land Rover’s diesel sales doubled year-on-year in January to more than 2700, led by the Land Rover Defender.

Such was the demand for JLR diesels that sales were triple those of the next biggest diesel seller, Mercedes-Benz. BMW was third. 

JLR recently said it was lengthening the development period of its EVs, reducing its 2021 commitment to build six electric Land Rover models by 2026 to four.

CEO Adrian Mardell recently said it was looking to increase availability of plug-in hybrids – the fuel type that overtook diesels overall across the UK last year.

For the moment, though, diesel remains dominant at the company in terms of UK sales.

JLR is an outlier, however, as the January figures show. Premium brands may now dominate diesel sales, but BMW recently announced that it wasn't bringing the 520d version of its new 5 Series to the UK, a development that underlines just how far diesel has fallen since its heyday.

For the business driver back in 2008, the 520d was the ultimate blend of performance, cachet and tax efficiency. At that point, BMW 5 Series sales were 93% D-badged as the UK headed towards its diesel pinnacle in 2011, when diesels accounted for half the car market.

The ratio in 2008 was the same for any large car launched by a premium brand. For example, the BMW X5 was 95% diesel and the Volvo XC90 was almost the same. Land Rover was 98% diesel.

Fast forward through the Dieselgate scandal in 2015 and a very different picture emerges. Many mainstream brands have already halted diesel sales, for example Nissan, Renault, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai. Others only sell diesels in passenger versions of vans, for example Ford. 

But the shift to hybrid, PHEV and increasingly electric power is starting to affect the premium brands too. More dramatic than BMW’s shrinking its diesel line-up was Volvo announcing that it would end diesel engine production altogether this spring.

The timing of the UK’s drop in demand for diesel intersects with that of Dieselgate, in which the Volkswagen Group admitted that it had cheated in emissions tests to make diesels look cleaner than they were in real life.

Demand fell quickly from around half to 7.5% last year, making us one of the least diesel-dependent markets in Europe (see charts). Granted, Italy and Spain in particular had further to fall, sales having reached more than 70% at one point, but we're pretty much done with the fuel. 

Aside from premium brands, only Volkswagen, Skoda, Peugeot and Seat offer a wide diesel choice, and then mainly for larger cars.

Targeted urban emissions schemes that impose tougher rules on diesels than petrols (such as the London ULEZ) scare off buyers, as does the long tail of Dieselgate.

Active compensation schemes continue to be pushed on social medias looking for buyers of diesel cars “between 2007 and 2018”, according to one. In the UK, only the Volkswagen Group has paid out, but many other brands are being targeted by law firms.

The benefits of modern diesels will be enough to allay fears of those drivers of larger SUVs, some of whom will be unconvinced by the real-world practicalities of PHEVs over longer distances. 

However, last year’s relative interruption in the fall of diesel is unlikely to continue into 2024, according to GlobalData, which predicts continued decline to almost nothing in 2030 across Europe. 

“If we do see a pause in Europe BEV growth this year, that could be good for combustion engines in general and for diesel, but hybrids are probably best placed to benefit,” said Bedwell.

Full Article