VW claims diesel comeback,despite dismal European figures

There are contradictory messages from Germany, despite a diesel backlash across Europe.

European car sales declined for the fifth consecutive month, but still at almost record overall levels, according to industry analysts Jato. Some 1.2m vehicles were registered in January 2019, with the alternative fuel market buoyant, but diesel vehicles took a significant hit, with an 18% decline for the month.

VW TDi Badge

Greater badge value? Image: Commons

The figures were borne out by the latest UK numbers released by industry trade body, the SMMT, which showed national registrations down amost 7%, with diesel sales down almost 30% for the whole of 2018.

The nosedive in diesel sales has even been cited as a key issue in Tata's thinking in relation to its ownership of the Jaguar Land Rover brand.

All of which makes the news from Germany - and VW in particular - rather curious.  According to Jato, the pan-European market share taken by diesels dropped to 36% in 2018 - the lowest since 2001 - with the market being described as in "freefall".  The blame is laid squarely at the door of 'dieselgate' in 2015, in which VW revealed it had used 'cheat devices' on diesel cars to produce false emissions readings.

However, the Jato figures also show that Germany was the only country, other than Estonia, to post an increase in diesel car sales - up 8% in January 2019.  The news was backed by VW's claims that "in 2018, the share of incoming orders for vehicles eqipped with the latest diesel technology as a proportion of the overall vehicle portfolio was 43% compared to 39% in 2017." According to the manufacturer, private customer sales were the strongest.

Germany is also facing something of a peculiar battle between manufacturers and environmentalists over diesel.  Germany's regulators have recently removed the barriers for car makers to upgrade exhaust filtering systems for older cars, as German cities clamp down on polluting vehicles.

While the automakers are naturally keen to sell new, more efficient and less polluting vehicles, environmentalists are fighting back with the argument that retrofits to older vehicles may be a more cost-effective solution.  According to statistics, only 2.7m of Germany's 15m vehicle diesel parc currenty conforms to Euro-6 standards, with an estimated €14.5bn required to upgrade Euro-5 compliant cars alone.