The backlash against diesel has caused average CO2 emissions of new cars to rise by 0.8% – the first increase on record – as buyers turn to higher-CO2 petrols over lower-CO2 diesels.
Figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reveal that average CO2 emissions for new cars registered in 2017 rose to 121.0g/km, up from 120.1g/km. This came despite the fact that the market’s new cars are on average 12.6% more efficient than their predecessors.
The rise, which marks the end to 20 years of consistent decline and comes after a record low CO2 output was recorded in 2016, is therefore directly linked to the collapse in diesel sales in the UK market in 2017. Diesel sales fell by 31% across the year as consumers turned their backs on the black pump.
Government legislation is blamed by SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes, who said: “The industry shares government’s vision of a low carbon future and is investing to get us there – but we can’t do it overnight; nor can we do it alone.
“The anti-diesel agenda has set back progress on climate change, while electric vehicle demand remains disappointingly low amid consumer concerns around charging infrastructure availability and affordability.”
Last year, the government dealt a double blow to diesel, announcing that all new non-electrified petrol and diesel car sales will be halted from 2040 onwards before confirming a tax hike for diesel cars in the autumn budget.
This anti-diesel legislation and the anti-diesel messages that accompanied them prompted a fall in consumer confidence. The knock-on effect has seen manufacturers begin to withdraw diesels from their line-ups. In the past week alone, Porsche stopped production of its current diesel models, and Fiat Chrysler revealed intentions to abandon diesel altogether by 2022.
Despite rapid growth in EV and hybrid car demand, total volume for the segment was still far too small to offset the drop in diesel demand. Demand for plug-in vehicles rose by 34.8% last year, yet zero-emission pure electric car sales still accounted for just 13,500 vehicles – a tiny proportion of the 2.5 million total car sales across the year.
Hawes said that this illustrated the need for further investment in cleaner combustion engine technology. He cited business fleets, which were previously seen as the biggest demand for diesel cars, as relevant places for diesel to still exist in large numbers.
“To accelerate fleet renewal, motorists must have the confidence to invest in the cleanest cars for their needs – however they are powered,” he said. “A consistent approach to incentives and tax and greater investment in charging infrastructure will be critical.
“Now, more than ever, we need a strategy that allows manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively, and which gives consumers every incentive to adapt.”
The UK’s CO2 jump could be short-lived, however, because 2018 will welcome several new mass-market EV models that could help the segment drastically increase its impact on total emissions. The coming months will see the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-tron take to roads, while the Volkswagen ID will be launched in 2019.