Sales of diesel cars fell by a fifth last month, suggesting that negative publicity over pollution and threats of increased costs are already having a major effect.
The latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that overall registrations of new cars fell to 186,265 last month, down 8.5% compared to May 2016, with sales of diesel cars down 20% year-on-year.
The latest diesels promise to be cleaner
The share of the market taken by diesel cars fell from 50% in May 2016 to 43.7%. For the year to date, diesel cars have a 44% share of the market, compared to 48% in the first five months of 2016.
However, the SMMT said the alternatively fuelled vehicle segment has rebounded following a decline in April, rising by nearly a half to take a new record market share of 4.4%.
Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation told Transport Network: ‘There was always the possibility that politicians only needed carry out a war of words against diesels to shift behaviour. These figures suggest that might now be happening. You can understand why.
‘Drivers will be very reluctant to invest significant sums of money in a vehicle that they believe will either be restricted in its use or be difficult to sell on in a few years time. The irony is that the latest diesels do promise to be significantly cleaner than what has gone before, but in many quarters the reputational damage might already be done.’
He added: ‘What motorists fear is uncertainty. The new government must set out its stall on air quality and carbon reduction as soon as possible, but even with a lead from Westminster there remains the danger that there will be a patchwork of restrictions across the country as different towns and cities do different things.’
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘We expected demand in the new car market to remain negative in May due to the pull-forward to March – which was an all-time record month – resulting from VED reform.
‘Added to this, the general election was always likely to give many pause for thought and affect purchasing patterns in the short term.’
Registrations of vans and other light commercial vehicle fell by 5.3% to 26,982 in May, with year-to-date registrations down 5.0% to 147,577.