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‘You’re kidding yourself if you think diesel cars and vans are dead’

With so many diesel-powered LCVs being sold, Mike Rutherford thinks there’s still life in the much-maligned fuel

Opinion - diesel

Sales of new diesel vehicles – they pretty much died, right? Er, yes and, er, no.

True, the damaging ‘dieselgate’ debacle can be largely blamed for stupidly murdering the diesel car. But there were several others who aided and abetted in the cruel death. Eco-warriors who hailed it as their most-hated fuel were certainly accomplices. As were woeful politicians who financially incentivised (via scrappage schemes etc.) consumers to purchase diesel machines, only to later financially clobber them for doing so.

The result of all this is that we’re now expected to unquestionably swallow the line that diesel has had its day. So far in 2023, UK sales of new conventional diesels account for less than five per cent of car registrations. And hybrid diesel cars are purchased in even smaller numbers. It’s pitiful. 

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But if you think it’s all over for diesel, it ain’t yet. Obvious to us all is the sheer growth in the number of small, medium and large vans plus 3.5-6.0-tonne ‘rigids’ (or little lorries, as I think of them) on the road. But equally obvious is the fact that they hardly ever seem to stop running while they busily do everything from transporting tradespeople and tools to and from job sites, to picking up, delivering and returning goods ordered online.

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But why does nobody talk about the elephant in the room – the fact that 93 per cent of new light commercial vehicles (LCVs) sold in Britain in 2023 – and earlier – are diesel-powered?

Buyers of such vans and little lorries have been repeatedly told by countless numbers of organisations that diesel is so yesterday and EV is all about today (and tomorrow) – yet tens of thousands of them have chosen to purchase diesels this year, while fewer than 2,000 of them went for EVs.

What’s more, comparing like with like – the early months of 2023 with the same period last year – purchases of diesel LCVs are up 20 per cent, while sales of EV versions have plummeted by 18 per cent. This wasn’t in the script.

I’m not sure if the problem here is prohibitively high retail prices for LCV electric vehicles, and/or much unprofitable and inconvenient downtime while these workhorse vehicles inevitably languish at charging units for way too long instead of (profitably) working hard almost 24/7.

Away from our tiny slice of Europe and focusing instead on the European mainland, it’s just been announced that the proportion of diesel trucks in the EU grew again last year – to almost 97 per cent, which is virtually saturation point. Where are the electric, petrol, hydrogen, LPG and other alternatives? Almost nonexistent, apparently.

So is it game over for sales of, and use of, new diesel vehicles? Nothing could be further from the truth. In some respects, they’re really growing in popularity, and may continue to do so for many years, possibly decades, to come. If you think otherwise, you might just be kidding yourself.

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know in the comments section....

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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