Special Report on Diesel Motoring: On the road to a revolution: Sales of cleaner, greener diesel cars that offer reductions on fuel bills have risen by more than 13 per cent in the UK in two years. Martin Derrick reports

FOR YEARS the British market has lagged far behind the Continental markets in acceptance of diesel cars. The primary reason is simplicity itself: successive British governments have levied far higher duty on diesel fuel than other European governments and so - unlike in France, Italy, Spain and Germany - there has never been a clear-cut financial incentive to switch to a diesel-powered car.

Indeed, since company car benefit-in-kind scales were hiked in virtually every Budget of the late 1980s, Chancellors here were in effect adding a further disincentive, since one aspect of the formula upon which those scales rely is engine size and diesel engines tend to have a larger cubic capacity for a given power output when compared with a petrol engine - and hence more tax was levied by the Inland Revenue on the hapless company car driver who chose to drive a diesel.

Despite this, and despite the fact that in the past diesel-engined cars invariably had a higher list price than petrol-engined equivalents, there has for many years been a strong, if limited, following for diesel cars among drivers keen to benefit from the diesel's undoubted fuel economy. Also, since comparatively few new diesel cars were being sold, an equally small number of used examples were coming on to the used car market. Hence, by and large, used diesel car values have tended to be significantly higher than those for equivalent petrol-engined cars, and this in turn became in the eyes of the converted yet another good reason for buying new diesels.

For the vast majority of British car buyers, however, the diesel was rejected as slow, noisy, unrefined and smelly - and until recently, the manufacturers of diesel-engined cars were unable to dispute these perceptions for the awkward reason that they were entirely justified. Worse, since diesel fuel was available at only a minority of filling stations, the diesel car driver had to share a pump with commercial vehicles and suffer the filth that that entailed.

However, in recent years there has been a revolution, both in diesel car development and technology, and in the state of the market. And this development has been further fuelled by the realisation that, compared to a petrol engine, a diesel power unit is far kinder to the environment in terms of exhaust emissions. For those who still associate diesels with London buses and large trucks emitting vast clouds of choking black soot from the exhaust pipes, this might come as something of a surprise, but it is true: the diesel produces far fewer hydrocarbons and less carbon monoxide and - because of the greater fuel economy - less carbon dioxide, too.

The modern diesel car offers performance, noise levels, refinement and comfort on a par with petrol cars, yet still offers superior fuel economy to the tune of between 20 to 40 per cent. Little wonder, then, than according to the SMMT's figures, diesel car sales have risen by 13.3 per cent in the past two years, despite a drop in the total new car market of over 30 per cent. In 1989, 123,345 diesel cars were sold in a total market of 2.3 million units, while in 1991 the figure was 139,810 in a total market of 1.59 million. In 1980, fewer than 6,000 diesel cars found buyers in the UK.

All the signs are that the UK diesel market is going to continue to grow - though how long it will be before this market can match that of France, where last year 38.2 per cent of all new car registrations were diesels - remains to be seen.

First, there is now far wider choice available to diesel customers. Just in the last couple of years the 'traditional' diesel car manufacturers, Peugeot, Citroen, and to a less extent Ford and Vauxhall, have greatly increased the number of diesel variants on offer. Meanwhile new players - including Rover with the 200 Series and Metro, Seat with the Toledo and Volkswagen with the Passat - offer still more possibilities.

Second, in this year's Budget the Chancellor announced changes in fuel duty which have widened the differential between diesel and leaded petrol fuel prices. If and when there is greater harmonisation of fuel duty rates within the EC, the likelihood is that the UK's differential will widen still further as British Chancellors are forced to come into line with pan-European practice.

Third, the Chancellor also announced in the Budget a fundamental review of the whole company car taxation system. Meetings of the various interested parties have already taken place, and though no consensus has yet been reached, the one thing all are agreed on is that tax scales based purely on engine size discriminate unfairly against the diesel and make little environmental or fiscal sense. Change in this regard is certain and thus fleets will no longer be put off diesel because of resistance to drivers having to pay higher tax rates.

Fourth, the environmental question is not going to disappear. And it is a fact that the best of today's diesel cars are among the least polluting on the road. For example, Volkswagen's Umwelt Golf diesel substantially betters the strict US83 regulations: particulates 0.11 grammes per mile (0.20 = US83 regulations); carbon monoxide 0.08 (3.40); hydrocarbons 0.06 (0.41); and nitrogen oxides 0.82 (1.00). Because modern diesel engines mix more air with the fuel, they use and burn it more efficiently, combustion is more complete and nearly all the fuel in the cylinders is burnt away.

Overall, diesels emit less than one third of the unburnt hydrocarbons, 90 per cent less carbon monoxide and about 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than petrol engines. Whether as a result of further legislation, or due to consumer demand, the cleaner greener diesel engine is likely to attract still greater attention in the coming years.

(Photograph omitted)

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?