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Diesel cars decline on UK roads but diesel-pickup sales jump in the US

It appears that the UK hit peak diesel last year and is not looking back. The RAC Foundation reported that there were 12.4 million diesel cars on UK roads in 2018, but that number fell to below 12.3 million last year. Meanwhile, in Q1 2020, the Diesel Technology Forum (DTM) said there was a rise in diesel sales this year, mostly among pickup trucks.

The Diesel Technology Forum reported:

For March, diesel sales were strong for all entries with a 3% increase as compared to March 2019, while overall vehicle sales were down dramatically.

GM and FCA were competing strongly among these pickup entries in the first quarter, leading to strong sales. Sales of commercial diesels represented 2.8 percent of total sales so far this year, up from 2.1 percent in 2019.

General Motors will soon start selling first-time diesel versions of the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban SUVs, and the Silverado pickup. GM is not alone in making a play for diesel, which is being propped up as an alternative to EVs.

Allen Schaeffer, director of the Diesel Technology Forum, said:

Electrification may be the wave of the future. But so far, it’s not bearing out in the market. GM recognizes that you have to have vehicles that customers can buy.

Here’s the sales chart from the DTM:

The drop in diesel cars in the UK is the first decline there since 1994. The trend is very likely to continue based on sales numbers in 2019. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 583,488 new diesel cars were sold in 2019, down 21.8% on the 746,332 sold in 2018.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

These figures hint at a motoring milestone – the possibility that we have hit or even passed ‘peak diesel’ – due to the collapse in sales of new diesel cars together with the scrapping of older diesels, which have either come to the end of their useful lives or whose owners fear increasing restrictions on their use because of air quality concerns.

Like commercial vehicles in the US, diesel-powered delivery and work vans sold in the UK increased in number last year, up from 3.86 million to 3.97 million. This underscores the need to electrify commercial vehicles.

Meanwhile, last month on Earth Day, the Diesel Technology Forum championed the cause of diesel fuel during the pandemic crisis:

The fuels and energy that power our global economies have been turned upside down by this pandemic. An overabundance of very cheap oil comes at a time of dramatically reduced demand. US gasoline consumption is 46 percent lower than last year at this time, while diesel is down only 18 percent, owing to its primary role in trucking, fueling the essential services that deliver the goods, the food, and the personal protective equipment.

Electrek’s Take

If a big car market in Europe, where diesel has dominated, can kick the diesel habit, the US certainly shouldn’t be moving in the opposite direction.

The gall of the Diesel Technology Forum issuing a message on Earth Day is off the charts.

Consider this: The International Council on Clean Transportation found last year that nearly 50% of transport pollution deaths each year are linked to diesel emissions. According to the ICCT, the United States saw 22,000 deaths from transport pollution, of which 43 percent were related to diesel vehicles.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.