Is the diesel decade over? Car buyers opting for petrol, says survey

Seven in 10 car buyers are “likely or very likely” to choose a petrol model for their next car, compared to just four in 10 for diesel.

Car buyer on forecourt
Car buyers are switching from diesel to petrol, according to a new survey by What Car?

Those are the key findings of a new survey by What Car? magazine, which concluded that the decade of diesel superiority may be drawing to a close. Interestingly, the changes appear to be more about cost and performance than environmental risks.

Buyers said that engine performance and good fuel consumption were the top two factors they looked for in a new motor. Diesels have outperformed petrol engines in both of these areas in recent years. However, a new generation of small-capacity turbocharged petrol engines is providing diesel-like performance and fuel consumption with petrol-like refinement. I raved about one such engine when I tested the latest Vauxhall Corsa in 2014.

More than 84% of drivers were also concerned about the potential for future fuel duty and road tax increases on diesel models. Last year’s diesel emissions scandal has raised awareness of the more serious pollution problems associated with diesel engines.

However, environmental concerns are notably missing from most drivers’ lists of concerns. Only 12-32% of drivers would consider a hybrid model, while more than 48% of buyers would be “very unlikely” to consider an electric car.

What Car? editor, Steve Huntingford, said:

“There appears to have been a dramatic shift in the petrol and diesel sales seesaw. In the 2000s, legislation changes resulted in a diesel boom but after last year’s revelations and the emergence of extremely efficient downsized petrol engines, the tide has now turned.

“Buyers appear not to be overly concerned about environmental factors. Car buying is usually determined by the financial aspects of the purchase; if buyers fear a diesel crackdown and petrol engines are cheaper to buy while being almost as efficient, it’s easy to understand the changes taking place.”

On the whole, petrol engines remain cheaper to buy, service and repair. They are also generally better-suited to low-mileage drivers doing a lot of short journeys. The diesel particulate filters fitted to many modern diesels can become problematic when used in this way.

The quality of new petrol engines means that in my opinion, a diesel doesn’t make much sense unless you do a lot of towing or a high mileage — perhaps more than 15,000 per year. It’s good to see petrol making a comeback. Hopefully this will spur manufacturers into offering a better choice of petrol engines on popular models.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.