The trade body representing the UKâ€™s motor manufacturers and traders has called for â€œurgent reassuranceâ€ from government over the future use of â€˜cleanâ€™ diesel vehicles in the UK.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has spoken out in response to the latest car registration data, released today (6 November), which indicates a decline in the number of cars registered for sale for the seventh consecutive month in a row.
In particular, the data indicates that diesel car sales have seen a significant drop when compared to the same period in 2017, with registrations having fallen by nearly a third (29.9%).
SMMT has attributed the drop in registrations to fears over potential bans for diesel cars from towns and city centres as local authorities respond to concerns over air quality.
Diesel cars have been the subject of particular focus in light of recent attention on the UKâ€™s air quality, as older diesel vehicles, particularly those that do not meet the latest (Euro VI) vehicle emissions standard, are known to emit high levels of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.
In the summer, the government outlined proposals to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in towns and cities across the country, which contained a commitment to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel-only cars â€“ albeit by 2040 (see airqualitynews.com story).
In the more immediate term the government has tasked more than 20 local authorities with requirements to draw up local plans to address air pollution at a number of hotspots in areas across England, with affected councils having until the end of 2018 to have firm plans in place.
Among the measures local authorities are being asked to consider is the introduction of clean air zones, in a bid to prevent the use of more polluting vehicles in areas impacted by poor air quality, and could see drivers paying to use some roads depending on the type of vehicle they drive.
However, SMMT has claimed that â€˜confusionâ€™ over the potential introduction of measures to restrict the use of diesel vehicles in some areas has impacted demand for new diesel cars.
The organisation has added that this is likely to impact the purchase of newer, cleaner diesels which are more likely to meet the stricter Euro VI emissions standard, even if measures put in place by councils are only likely to target older, more polluting diesel cars.
SMMT has urged government to provide â€˜reassuranceâ€™ to consumers and industry that new diesel cars will not face bans or restrictions.
Commenting on the latest figures, Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: â€œDeclining business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly affecting demand in the new car market but this is being compounded by confusion over government policy on diesel. Consumers need urgent reassurance that the latest, low emission diesel cars on sale will not face any bans, charges or other restrictions, anywhere in the UK.
â€œWe urge the government to use the forthcoming Autumn Budget to restore stability to the market, encouraging the purchase of the latest low emission vehicles as fleet renewal is the fastest and most effective way of addressing air quality concerns.â€
Offsetting the decline in diesel car registrations, the figures published by the SMMT indicate that demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles such as battery electric cars have continued to rise. According to the data, alternatively fuelled car registrations were up 36.9% compared to 2016, with 8,244 cars having been registered during the month.
However, despite coming under some pressure, the SMMT data suggests that petrol and diesel cars still dominate the market for new vehicles, with a total of 946,537 diesel and 1,175,697 petrol cars registered for sale in the UK, and 102,369 alternatively fuelled vehicles throughout 2017.