Last year, we discussed potential trouble ahead for diesel drivers. It was a highly emotive subject – something proven by the 26 pages of comments we received about the article.
Now, 2017 seems set to be the year that diesel drivers are hit with a perfect storm of issues and difficulties, with chatter already building about the potential for tax hikes and even diesel vehicle bans in cities.
Many diesel drivers have a solid reason to feel aggrieved by the government’s rapidly evolving stance on diesel vehicles and the emissions they produce. Under the last Labour government, people were positively encouraged to switch to diesel and Gordon Brown even gave tax breaks to individuals purchasing them.
Of course, that’s all changed since evidence emerged that diesel vehicles are far more damaging to the environment. Now the present government finds itself in the awkward position of having to disincentivise the use of vehicles that people were once proactively encouraged to buy – in a country with over 10 Million diesel cars on the road.
Last year, the High Court ruled that the government must urgently act to address air pollution. As we moved into 2017 this was brought into sharp focus with the news that it only took five days for London to breach its air pollution targets. Almost 10,000 annual deaths in London are being blamed on air pollution, with many experts considering diesels to be the main issue.
Last year, a campaigning group called Doctors Against Diesel called on the mayor to put in place a ban on diesel vehicles in London. While this may sound extreme, such bans are actually planned in Athens, Madrid and Paris within the next decade.
However, there are some major practicalities to consider – not least the fact that a government cannot simply ban vehicles that people have previously been encouraged to buy! This is why there are calls for scrappage schemes and incentives to persuade people to move to “cleaner” cars. However, these ideas would be costly and need to be incredibly broad in scope to placate everyone. As yet, the government hasn’t indicated any such schemes are under serious consideration.
One thing we may realistically see later this year is tax increases for diesel vehicles. The government has frozen fuel duty for six years in a row, and one has to ponder whether this may come to an end in 2017.
Last year, Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport secretary at the time, indicated that taxes may have to rise to address diesel emissions. A fuel duty increase for diesel seems most likely here, which will be especially galling for long-term diesel drivers who will have seen Gordon Brown do exactly the opposite to incentivise diesel use back in 2001.
In addition to all the uncertainty above, if you own a diesel car you may well find yourself needing to visit your dealership for a recall or a software tweak at some point in 2017.
Obviously, the Volkswagen group scandal springs immediately to mind, and owners of diesel VWs, Audis, Skodas, Seats and Porsches should already have been notified if they need to take their car in for recall work. Meanwhile, a class-action lawsuit involving 10,000 owners is in the works. If the action is successful and sets a legal precedent, this could see over a million owners of such cars being awarded £3000 in compensation – something that would cost the VW group £3.6 Billion.
Aside from this however, it’s important to note that the diesel emissions scandal that broke in 2015 has now engulfed numerous other car manufacturers too.
While no other manufacturer has been implicated in the same way, “irregularities” have been found in diesel vehicles from Renault, Fiat and Jaguar, amongst many others, with plenty of companies including Mercedes-Benz and Opel set to conduct voluntary recalls on their vehicles too. It’s an almighty muddle – and that’s without beginning to consider that such recall work could have an impact on performance and fuel economy.
Is buying diesel now a bad idea?
Choosing a new diesel vehicle is certainly a bolder move than it once was. While it seems incredibly unlikely that the government could introduce any measures that would suddenly drastically disadvantage diesel drivers, the negative press alone could serve to make diesel cars less desirable and hit their resale values. Furthermore, a duty increase on diesel could eat into potential fuel economy savings.
If you travel long distances and select a vehicle with low enough emissions to qualify for low road tax (excise duty), a diesel car could still save you money in the short / medium term – but it’s fair to say it’s now a decision that warrants far more consideration than it once did. On the other hand, your options could be a potentially more polluting petrol car or an electric vehicle – and many consider these to still be in their relative infancy – so not an easy decision to make!
What do you think’s in store for diesel drivers in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments below.