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New car sales have fallen for the first time in six years to a low of 2.5 million due to a decline in business and consumer confidence, with diesel car sales falling by almost a fifth.
The primary reason for the sales drop in diesels appears to stem from the confusion surrounding the Governments policy towards their future, with sales falling by almost a third in December alone.
The backlash is likely to have come, in part, from clean air campaigners who have targeted diesels over the fact that the majority of nitrogen oxide gas that comes from roadside sources is created by diesel cars.
But diesels are typically more fuel-efficient than petrol cars and produce less carbon dioxide, making it vital for the car industry that there is still demand for them if they are to meet targets set for reducing CO2 emissions.
So why have we stopped buying diesels?
It all started when it was revealed that VW had been cheating emissions tests in the US.
So-called ‘defeat devices’ had been fitted in about 11 million cars worldwide which meant that cars operating in controlled laboratory settings were put into ‘safety mode’, causing the engine to run below its normal levels of power and performance.
Yet when the vehicles were released onto the road they were able to switch out of this mode and emit nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above the level allowed in the US.
The knock-on effect of the VW scandal is the current backlash against all diesel cars which was inflamed by the government’s November Budget, in which it was revealed that a new levy was being imposed on diesel cars that failed to meet the latest emissions standards.
This one-off tax will come into effect from April and is likely to apply to the majority of new diesel cars.
Where does this leave the car industry?
It is expected that sales of new cars will continue to fall throughout the year, but to put the current drop into context, 2018 has still seen the third best sales in a decade and the sixth best sales on record.
It is predicted that sales will have stabilised by 2019, but in the meantime sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles such as electrics and hybrids have risen by 34.8 per cent to almost 120,000.
Although this only accounts for a tiny proportion of the 2.5 million vehicles sold last year in the UK, it is clear that the environmental impact of certain vehicles and the accompanying costs of this is now starting to become a stronger factor in consumers purchasing decisions.