Back in September 2012, I penned a blog asking where had all the small cars gone and why were people driving around in diesel-powered behemoths. I concluded that the price of diesel fuel had created a situation where it was perceived that it was just as economical to drive around in a large diesel car as it was a petrol-engined supermini.
This has become known as the ‘dash for diesel’, as the British Government encouraged motorists to go for the more economical diesel engine through tax breaks as a way of prolonging the planet’s natural resources. To be fair to the decision makers, it was a policy that had been embraced by other European Governments a lot earlier. This was much to the chagrin of UK diesel owners, who used to pay more at the pumps than for petrol.
Now I am not going to go into the politics of this decision, that is for others, but to examine the long-term effects.
Why the dash for diesel?
The ‘dash for diesel’ has changed the UK motoring scene completely. Petrol is for classic cars, motorcycles and superminis driven by new drivers and pensioners. Diesel completely dominates the scene. Initially, it was fleet buyers and those affluent enough to afford a new car who benefited but, as the supply of diesel cars filtered down into the used car chain, the general populous began to enjoy big car luxury with small car running costs.
The Government had, in effect, handed the great mass of the motoring public a tax break which they then fully exploited. If I look at the official data for one of my own barges, a 2004 Jaguar S-Type (above) with the 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine I find it has a fuel economy of 25 mpg. The corresponding 2.7 litre V6 diesel model attains 42 mpg, a whopping 68 per cent improvement in fuel economy.
The more common S-Type found on the roads is the AJ-V6 3.0-litre petrol variant, Jaguar only claimed a mere 26 mpg for that, which means the diesel version is 61 per cent more economical. The diesel S-Type might not be as refined as the V8, but it does offer comfort, an excellent climate control system and built in sat-nav – all this combined with the fuel economy of a 1990s Rover Metro fitted with the 1.4 litre K-Series engine.
I kid you not. What is there not to like about going diesel?
Really… what’s not to like?
Diesel even makes the gargantuan L322 Range Rover a viable used car. While some people may baulk at the 17-18 mpg offered by the 4.4-litre V8 petrol, the diesel options are more appealing. The smaller 3.0- and 3.6-litre diesels give about 25 mpg, but the 4.4-litre TDV8 diesel offers 30mpg, a 66% improvement over the equivalent petrol variant.
On a modern car like the best selling Nissan Qashqai (above), the 1.5-litre diesel is 48 per cent more economical than the 1.2-litre petrol, which itself offers an impressive 50 mpg.
However, the British Government’s transport policy has been plagued with blunders over the decades. Remember the drastic pruning of the railway system, which was regarded as being an expensive relic of the Victorian era and had no future in a modern Britain? Now rail usage is at record levels and the capacity lost is sorely needed.
Was our love of diesel a mistake?
Now we are told that the ‘dash for diesel’ was a mistake, that it has caused excess pollution and that diesel usage has to be curbed as a matter of urgency. Local government is actively looking at introducing financial penalties for those who drive dirty diesels in major cities.
While I am not going into the reasons for this apparent U-turn in the establishment mindset, it does pose central government a major problem. Getting rid of diesels means impoverishing the motorist/electorate by forcing them back into petrol cars which are 50 per cent less economical. How much has the economy benefited from motorists having more money in their pocket because they made the switch to diesel?
For many people in rural areas the diesel option may still be popular for years to come, but places like London might become no go areas. Governments dating back to the time of Ernest Marples have found that upsetting motorists is not a good idea, so what does the future hold?
Will diesel survive or will there be a gradual drift back to petrol and Alec Issigonis’ Mini world?