The number of cars sold in the UK last year fell for the first time since 2011, according to new figures from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Sales for 2017 were down 5.7% on the previous year, with 2,540,617 new vehicles registered in total.
Despite the drop, the total number of new vehicles registered in 2017 was still the third highest figure of the last decade. Along with a lack of consumer confidence resulting from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, a large portion of the blame has been levelled at confusion over the future of diesel vehicles.
Last summer, the UK government set out a raft of changes aimed at improving air quality in the UK. Britain’s environment ministry proposed a ban on the sale of diesel and petrol cars across the country from 2040, with local authorities able to charge levies on the drivers of the diesel vehicles on the most polluted roads from 2020.
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In the 2017 Autumn Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond then announced changes to vehicle excise duty (VED) that will see owners of some diesel vehicles paying a higher rate of tax. From April 2018, if you buy a new diesel car that does not meet new emission standards, you’ll be required to pay one band higher tax for that period — which could be as much as £500.
Furthermore, in October a new ‘T-charge’ was introduced in London, which requires owners of the oldest and most polluting diesel vehicles to pay £10 on top of the usual £11.50 congestion charge. All these changes are not altogether surprising, after it was announced that fumes from diesel cars kill 5,000 people a year in Europe.
However, the quick succession of changes could explain why there’s still some confusion about whether buying a new diesel car could end up being very costly. As a result, the number of new diesel cars registered in 2017 was down a significant 17.1% compared to the previous year, with a whopping 31.1% fewer bought in December. Conversely, electric cars have seen a large boost, with sales of AFVs (alternatively fueled vehicles) rising from 88,891 to 119,821 in the same period — a rise of 34.7%.
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“Falling business and consumer confidence is undoubtedly taking a toll… and confusing anti-diesel messages have caused many to hesitate before buying a new low emission diesel car,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT. “Keeping older vehicles on the road will not only mean higher running costs but will hold back progress towards our environmental goals.
“Consumers should be encouraged to buy the right car for their lifestyle and driving needs irrespective of fuel type – whether that be petrol, electric, hybrid or diesel as it could save them money.”
Hawes added that he expects sales to see a further drop in 2018, and that the upside is that consumers can expect to see more competitive deals than ever.