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Is it time to ditch diesel? Fuel gauge pointing to empty

Should I lease a diesel car or is it time to plug in?

  • Published 16 March 2020
  • 4 minute read
  • By Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

Diesel’s stock has never been lower. Ever since the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal of 2015, consumers have been suspicious of diesel cars, resulting in falling sales in an already depressed new car market.

This lack of consumer confidence comes amid tougher legislation and higher taxation, creating stormy waters and an uncertain future. In February 2020, the government announced that a ban on petrol and diesel cars, originally scheduled for 2040, would be brought forward to 2035.

New car registrations fell for the third year running in 2019, with the market slumping to a seven-year low. Sales of diesel cars fell by a whopping 22%, giving the fuel a market share of 25%. That’s the lowest it has been since 2013.

Conversely, sales of electric and hybrid cars grew by 21%, to secure a market share of 7.4%. This is expected to increase further in 2020, with electric cars likely to build on their 1.6% market share.

All of which means you might be considering leasing an electric or plug-in hybrid car, ditching diesel once and for all. But while we’d certainly advocate a plug-in vehicle, it might be too early to dismiss a diesel car altogether. Here’s why.


The ban is a long way off

Diesel will be here for some time to come, but electric cars can still be temptingThe petrol-diesel ban is a long way  - Renault Zoe electric carView the best leasing deals this month Lease Now

The government has launched a consultation on plans to bring forward the ban on new petrol and diesel cars to 2035. There are rumours that it could be even earlier, with much depending on the results of the consultation.

There are two things to consider here. First, the ban isn’t likely to come into force until 2030 at the earliest – more realistically it will be 2035. Given that most lease contracts last two to four years, you could be half-way through your fourth leasing deal before the ban is enforced.

Second, it’s a ban on new cars. Although you won’t be able to buy a new petrol, diesel or hybrid car in 2035, the government isn’t banning diesel cars from the road. Nearly 600,000 diesel cars were registered in 2019, so it remains by far and away the second biggest sector behind petrol.


Diesel cars still make sense for high mileages

Got a long way to travel? Diesel is still the best choiceDiesel cars make sense for high mileageView the best leasing deals this month Lease Now

One of the problems is that all diesel engines are tarnished by the same brush. While there’s little doubt that an ageing diesel van leaving behind a trail of black smoke should be removed from the road, many modern diesel engines are exceptionally clean.

An example is this is the latest Volkswagen Golf GTD, which has an exhaust treatment system so advanced that Volkswagen says it’s ‘one of the cleanest combustion engines in the world' - and it doesn't just mean diesel engines but petrol as well. This seems a far cry from the Dieselgate scandal.

What's more, if you travel more than 15,000 miles a year, covering long distances in the process, a diesel car will offer the optimum blend of lease price, fuel economy and running costs.

Take the new Peugeot 208 1.5 BlueHdi. In Active trim, you can lease this car for £230 a month, based on 10,000 miles a year and a four-year contract. The newly-crowned European Car of the Year offers a claimed 71.4mpg under the latest testing requirements - which are tougher and more realistic than ever. Quite remarkable.


The case for plugging in

Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are getting better all the timethe case for plugging inView the best leasing deals this month Lease Now

The big problem with electric cars right now is the cost. At the moment you're unlikely to get a car that's the same size as your conventional diesel model for the same money.

For example, the Smart EQ ForTwo costs upwards of £215 a month but offers a meagre 70 miles of electric range. This makes absolutely no sense for motorists covering thousands of miles a year.

But this situation is evolving extremely rapidly. In 2020 we will see an influx of new electric cars hitting the market, many of which offer more far more useable range estimates. For example, the new Peugeot e-208 has an official range of 217 miles, with an 80% charge available in just 30 minutes.

It’s a similar story with the Vauxhall Corsa-e, while larger cars like the MG ZS EV, Hyundai Ioniq Electric and the Tesla Model 3 offer an excellent blend of family car practicality and electric range.

You also need to consider the threat of diesel cars being banned from the centres of UK cities. The government is under pressure to tackle high levels of pollution, with city bans just one part of an overall strategy to improve air quality.

For example, privately owned diesel cars will be banned from certain areas of Bristol from 2021, while other cities are introducing Clean Air Zones (CAZ) from 2020. While modern lease vehicles are likely to be exempt from paying a penalty, the rules could get tighter over the next few years.


Diesel or electric?

If you lease you're not locked into your decision foreverit might be time to plug inView the best leasing deals this month Lease Now

There’s little doubt that the balance of power is tipping in the direction of electric vehicles. The combination of purchase incentives and free VED (road tax), plus local, national and international legislation points towards the EV being the car of the future.

There’s also a sense that 2020 is the year in which the electric car hits the mainstream. With Peugeot, Vauxhall, Honda and Mini launching relatively affordable EVs with longer driving range figures, more people will be considering the lease of an electric vehicle.

Yet it’s too early to dismiss the diesel as outmoded and outdated. A modern diesel car remains the best choice for a driver covering long distances, and there’s a far better range of options available if you intend to tow a caravan or a horsebox. The latest Euro 6 diesel cars are also exempt from the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the proposed Clean Air Zones (though Bristol is still an exception to this rule).

Remember, because you’re leasing, you’re not exposed to the potential risks of diesel car backlash. If tighter legislation is introduced, or the government brings forward the ban on new diesel cars, you only have to wait for the end of your existing lease contract (you might even be able to cancel it early).

In summary: it might be time to plug-in, but don’t rule out a diesel car if still suits your life better.

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