Diesel on the nose for car buyers

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Sales of diesel-powered passenger cars are down substantially so far this year, just as they were in 2014.

Looking at the data, it appears that buyers looking at a new car that isn’t an SUV or a light commercial are abandoning the once in-vogue idea of going for a diesel.

According to VFACTS industry sales figures, private buyers have purchased 1459 diesel-powered passenger vehicles this year, down 35 per cent. By comparison, there have been 46,761 petrol passenger cars registered (down 1.9 per cent).

Meanwhile, fleet purchases of diesel passenger cars have fallen 34 per cent to 2098 units, compared with 28,544 petrol cars (down 5.2 per cent).

It is an acceleration of a trend evident in 2014, where sales fell by 18 per cent (private) and 17 per cent (non-private) respectively. It was a similar story in 2013 too.

Passenger vehicles, by the way, are classified as those that are not SUVs or commercials — in other words, hatchbacks, sedans, wagons, people-movers and coupe/convertibles.

Still king in markets across Europe — though perhaps not quite to the same degree as a few years ago — diesel was for some time also becoming a hit among local buyers, given cars powered by this fuel tend to be more efficient.

However, recent efforts by manufacturers (such as the three in the image above: Mazda, Peugeot and Volkswagen) to downsize their petrol-fired engines have closed the fuel efficiency gap significantly. In an increasing number of cases, the gap is negligible.

Diesel fuel itself is also pricier at the bowser — or perhaps at parity — compared to petrol, something that isn’t the case in many other countries.

Diesel cars are also frequently more expensive to service than petrol ones, and a few thousand dollars more expensive to buy in the first place.

Diesel is on the rise in SUVs, though not remotely to the same degree as petrol versions are, and at a rate below the overall average. The real segment growth is coming from small and medium SUVs, and a large percentage of sales there are petrol.

Diesel-powered SUV sales in the private space are up 2.1 per cent to 10,590 this year, but petrol ones grew 20 per cent to 25,516. Non-private SUV sales grew 1.3 per cent to 9370 (diesel) compared with 30 per cent to 13,966 (petrol).

Diesel fuel does better in many (but not all, think of the Toyota Kluger and Nisan Pathfinder) large SUV lines, where the fuel efficiency differences are most stark — a result of the increased weight of those vehicles. The heavier the car, the larger the petrol engine tends to be, and the thirstier compared with a relaxed and torquey diesel.

Naturally, the vast majority of light commercial sales are diesels, growing 10.5 per cent to 10,169 in the private space and 2.3 per cent to 14,973 in the non-private. Petrol LCV sales contracted by 28 per cent to 1204 and 20 per cent to 1971 respectively.

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