New car sales in July continued to drop, with petrol cars down 9.3%. Diesel cars crashed even further, with a drop of 20.1%, according to the latest sales data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

While new petrol car sales are down this month, they’re actually up by 4.3% for the year to date. Diesel sales, on the other hand, are down 11% overall. The blame for the significant drop has been laid squarely at the government’s feet, as a result of its plans to drop petrol and diesel cars by 2040, plans for city centre charging and the confusion surrounding a potential diesel scrappage scheme.

Scrappage scheme delayed

Many expected the government to announce a diesel scrappage scheme as part of its recent air quality plan. This would deliver on the promise made in May to introduce compensation for drivers who scrap or retrofit their old diesel cars. Fast forward to July though, and the government has instead launched a consultation on a targeted scrappage scheme.

The onus is now on local authorities to come up with their own schemes as part of a drive to reduce excess NOx pollution over 18 months. These will then be signed off by the government. The new approach has been met with plenty of criticism. Former Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey MP states,

“The government promised compensation to help diesel drivers replace their cars just a few months ago. Now the scrappage scheme has been all but scrapped. It’s a shameful betrayal of diesel car drivers and shows the utter lack of ambition of this plan.”

Is scrappage the right approach?

Interestingly, those representing the motor industry are not yet convinced by the practicalities of scrappage schemes. SMMT’s Chief Executive Mike Hawes told Auto Express magazine,

“The difficulty is two-fold. Where is the problem of air quality? It will be in very localised areas, so which cars are you going to target? These located in the area or those moving in and out?

“Secondly, it’s the oldest cars you want to get off the road, pre-Euro 4. That vehicle is over 12 years old, but there are over two million of those on the road. But if you own one of those you are not the average new car purchaser. How do you incentivise someone who has a car worth a couple of grand to spend £25,000?”

Car makers to the rescue

While policymakers and pundits continue to argue over the perceived pros and cons of a diesel scrappage scheme, it could be car makers who end up leading the charge to secure a workable strategy for people wanting to move to cleaner diesels and alternative fuel cars. BMW/Mini has announced its own version of a scrappage scheme, which could see owners of older diesels being offered up to €2,000 (£1,800 at the time of writing) off the price of a new BMW or Mini.

Branded as a ‘fleet renewal campaign,’ because the German car company insists that it won’t scrap any traded-in cars, qualifying car owners can choose from a range of cars that meet Euro 6 regulations and that emit 130g/km or less of carbon dioxide. According to Carbuyer, this means not only can buyers choose from a diesel BMW 3 Series 320d or the stonking BMW 5 Series 530d, plug-in hybrids also qualify. These include the Mini Countryman Cooper and the electric-powered BMW i3.

It’s worth noting though that BMW doesn’t stipulate exactly how much of the discount you can expect when you come in with your beaten up old Volvo diesel. It will be “dependent upon model bought.” The scheme is expected to be rolled out across the EU by the end of August. It will run until the end of December. If successful, we wouldn’t be surprised to see BMW extend the offer.

While the government, rival politicians and the media continue to argue over scrappage, perhaps BMW’s innovative approach is the pragmatic solution. After all, it’s car makers who stand to lose out if diesel continues to be the focus of the pollution debate. Thus car brands must play their role in bringing about the serious change needed to reduce pollution levels across the UK’s towns and cities.

Is the government doing enough to ensure that diesel drivers aren’t being left stranded? Or should it be up to the car industry to help resolve the NOx crisis? Let us know your thoughts below.

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