Diesel ban? The future of diesel cars in the UK and beyond

We look back at diesel’s problems and forward at the future for diesel cars. Will they be banned or is there life in the black pump yet?

Does the industry think diesel is dead?

Customer and political attitudes towards diesel have shifted dramatically over the past year. More governments around the world are being lobbied to ban diesel vehicles from entering cities and discourage their sales, because of concerns around air pollution and damage to public health.

Market share for diesel cars in the UK has fallen off a cliff, dropping by 24.9 per cent in the past 12 months. The announcement by the UK Government that new petrol and diesel vehicles will be bannedfrom sale by 2040 further ratcheted up the pressure on diesel, and weakened consumer confidence.

Given how quickly the perception of diesel has changed over the past year, Auto Express sat down with 12 leading industry executives to get their view on diesel and ask: how much life does diesel technology have left in it? 

Herbert Diess, Volkswagen CEO

“We will see a big change in small and compact cars, but I think diesel will still be a choice for long-distance drivers. And for the bigger cars, such as SUVs, diesel is the number one option. Diesel also becomes as clean as a gasoline car with Euro 6 emissions rules.

“We need diesel to be able to cope with fleet targets in terms of CO2 emissions. At Volkswagen we think diesel is part of the solution and not the problem.” 

Bram Schot, Audi sales and marketing boss 

“First of all, take [the year] 2025. The problem we all have is that 50-60 per cent of cars [on the road] will still have a combustion engine, because we think electrification take-up will be about a third.

“So if you look at CO2 emissions and the current diesel engines, they are better, more efficient and cleaner than ever before. And in my opinion, they will play a part in 2025. If you want to get CO2 down, diesel has to play a role.”

Andy Palmer, Aston Martin CEO

“It’s dead. It has a future perhaps in heavy goods vehicles, but in passenger cars? I don’t see it surviving this blow that it’s taking. It’s a pity, really, because as an answer to CO2, it’s the best answer the car industry has.

“But the way that electric has been introduced to the British public, with the confusion over 2040 plus the air quality debate and cheating – I think it’s too much for the technology to sustain.”

Adrian Hallmark, Bentley CEO 

“It’s political and we’re not bitter about it. We offer the product and there’s a definite shift in demand – a weakening. Unless we see a sea change in governmental attitudes towards it and we stop the hyperbole, we don’t see a long-term future.

“But we’re not going to pull it from the market on a principle point of view; customers buy them, customers love them and it’s a brilliant proposition in Bentayga.”

Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler CEO 

“Whether we think diesel is harmful or not doesn’t really matter. The markets have killed it. It seems that they’ve turned against diesel and it’s going to take a gargantuan effort to turn it round.

“There appears to be a real disengagement of the buying public towards diesel. And because of the regulations on emissions that are coming in the next decade, it is going to be incredibly cost-prohibitive to continue to be engaged in diesel. So we will have to find an answer. But we are going to lessen the reliance on diesel substantially in the future. We have to. I have no choice.” 

Harald Kruger, BMW chairman & CEO 

“Our diesels are among the best in the world, and that has been confirmed by independent tests worldwide. Diesel technology is important for meeting CO2 targets, and we believe banning diesel vehicles is the wrong approach.

“We have promised our leasing customers in Germany that we will take back our BMW diesels if bans are introduced. Through this, we want to strengthen people’s trust in our diesels. But it would also be helpful if the discussion about nitrogen oxides and particulate matter was based more on reality and facts.”

Francois Mariotte, Dacia Commercial director 

“Diesel is still dominant in Duster. For sure, in Sandero the mix is lower, but that’s also because we have very efficient petrol engines.

“At Dacia we follow the trend of the market, so our policy is pragmatic. We have behind us all the Groupe Renault. So we have a big, big machine, with all these advanced technologies inside the group.

“Our job, when it’s heavily required by customers, when it’s proven technology, when it makes sense and there is potential for taxation [of diesel], is to make the switch to new technologies within the group.” 

Pascal Ruch, Director Lexus Europe 

“Lexus has always been committed to the most environmentally friendly and cleanest powertrains on the market. We have our 2050 vision to reduce CO2 emissions by 90 per cent compared with the 2010 levels.

“So electrification over diesel is not just something we’ve arrived at over the past 18 months; we were there in the very early days – Toyota and Lexus – and it’s completely part of our philosophy.

“Right now, the market seems to be moving, yes. And let’s be realistic: diesel is under pressure, not only in terms of sales but also on residual values, and so on.” 

Joe Bakaj, Ford VP Product development

“The whole industry is looking very hard at how it's balancing its investments in electrification with their investments in combustion engines. We’ve just launched our new EcoBlue diesel in the Transit, which was a big investment, and on the passenger car side, we’ve just introduced our new generation of diesel in our EcoSport small SUV.

“Will there be another generation of diesels beyond that? The new engines will last us a full cycle, so we have time to see how things develop. Let’s wait and see. We think we’re in a pretty good position because of our big investment in EcoBoost petrols.” 

Mike Manley, Jeep CEO

“Over the past two years, for sure my view on diesel powertrains for the Jeep brand has changed. Two years ago I would have said that as you go up into the larger segments, diesel will remain the dominant powertrain. I no longer believe that.

“In the smaller segments diesel is dropping away dramatically. Diesel technology on the exhaust side has changed dramatically and will need to continue to change. But what also comes with that in the future is the cost of diesel compliance. Especially with many cities who are making statements about when they will stop diesel coming in.” 

Jean-Phillipe Imparato, Peugeot CEO 

“In the past 12 months running we’ve gone from 58 per cent of global mix being petrol, to 63 per cent. So it is not totally the end of life for diesel.

“Also, nobody knows what will be the rhythm of the switch between combustion engines and EV, and especially diesel to petrol. We want to have a simple answer to this question. That’s why, beginning next year, every launch of a new car will be electrified. I mean every launch, including the 508 and 3008. That’s why you will buy a Peugeot; you will have the opportunity to choose the powertrain you want.” 

Maxime Picat, PSA EU boss

“If the negative political noise keeps at this level then diesel will die, but that is against the reality of CO2 targets. Diesel is the best solution for keeping low CO2.

“It’s about politics and the environmental vision of the world, but we try to answer it as well as we can by saying we have several solutions: electric, plug-in-hybrid, diesel, petrol. We have to remind people that full electric on everything is not the best solution, even for the environment. And we want the politicians to assess the facts before they make a decision.”

Should you still buy a diesel car? We answer the most pressing questions here... 

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