Year in review 2018: Diesel

02 January 2019

2 January 2019

By Phil Curry

The last 12 months have seen a steep decline in diesel sales, while manufacturers, industry bodies and vehicle suppliers continue to champion the technology.

During 2018, there were over 200 stories relating to diesel technology in Autovista Group’s Daily News Brief.


The year started ominously for the industry as France became the first country to post its 2017 figures, showing diesel market share falling below 50% for the first time since 2000, with registrations falling 5%. Sales of diesel engine vehicles in Germany fell by 13% in 2017, while UK sales of vehicles using the technology fell by 17.1%. This was coupled with an increase in CO2 levels in the country, the first rise in 20 years, and a sign of things to come.

Quarterly figures for Europe released in November by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), revealed that 58% of all new passenger cars sold in Europe ran on petrol, while roughly a third were fuelled by diesel. Sales declined in most EU countries except Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, meaning the market fell from 43.1% in Q3 2017 to 34.7% in the last three months. Overall, 1,208,639 cars were sold, down 18.2%. Year-to-date sales declined 16.9% compared to the first nine months of 2017.

While sales of the technology fell, the UK’s used car market proved there was demand for diesel technology, placing the blame on falling new sales on rising tax rates and demonisation, rather than lack of appetite. Conventional petrol and diesel engines made up more than 98% of all Q3 transactions, with around 850,000 diesel vehicles changing hands. While new diesel sales are plummeting, used sales of the technology continue to remain fairly stable, just 2.6% down compared to Q3 2017.

Retrofits and bans

In Germany, the first instance of the need for manufacturers to offer hardware retrofitting, on top of their software retrofits offered during 2017, came up in January. Following national elections that saw no party gain a majority to rule in the country, the leading Christian Democratic Union (CDU) held coalition talks with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). As part of these negotiations, politicians wanted to push through a series of hardware updates to diesel vehicles, something manufacturers opposed.

However, while the debate over retrofits rumbled on, Hamburg became the first city in Germany to implement a driving ban on diesel vehicles in the city, nominating some streets to place restrictions upon. This was then followed with announcements of bans starting in 2019 in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. In each instance, only certain areas of the cities are subject to bans, with Euro 4 and below vehicles not allowed to travel in these zones. Bans on Euro 5 diesels will come into place later this year.

Cleaner diesels

New data released during the year by ACEA provided evidence that latest-generation diesel vehicles emit low pollutant emissions on the road.

Some 270 new types of diesel cars type-approved against the latest Euro 6d-TEMP standard were introduced on the European market over the past year. All of these diesel cars performed well below the NOx threshold of the real driving emissions (RDE) test, which applies to all new car types since September 2017. What is more, already today most of these vehicles show results that are below the stricter NOx threshold that will be mandatory from January 2020.

In April, vehicle supplier Bosch presented new exhaust technology that it claimed could save diesel. The system has been tested by the company and in real-world driving conditions (RDE) emits lower levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) than is permitted by new regulations due to be adopted in 2020. Bosch engineers achieved the results by refining existing technologies, meaning no expensive additional components were needed.


There were a number of recalls in 2018, as manufacturers continued to grapple with the fallout of Dieselgate. Audi was ordered to issue a recall for 127,000 vehicles after the country’s KBA motor transport authority, the KBA, detected illegal emission control software, while Daimler was told to recall more than 600,000 vehicles including Mercedes-Benz C-class and G-class models because of suspected emissions manipulation.

In February, Audi’s headquarters and plant in Neckarsulm were raided in relation to the Dieselgate scandal. These searches, together with some carried out at private homes, related to suspected fraud and illegal advertising in connection with the sale of at least 210,000 vehicles in both Europe and the US since 2009. 

German prosecutors also searched Opel’s Ruesselsheim and Kaiserslautern facilities as part of a probe into potential diesel-emissions cheating. As a result of the raid, the KBA ordered the carmaker to recall 100,000 vehicles, including Cascada, Insignia and Zafira models. The authority has said that illegal ′defeat devices’ were discovered in Opel cars earlier in the year.

Automotive supplier Bosch was also told it must hand over emails in connection with lawsuits brought by investors against Porsche, linked to the Dieselgate scandal.

End of sales

Finally, as diesel markets fell, a number of manufacturers confirmed they would be ending sales, development and production of the technology, concentrating instead on electric and hybrid vehicles.

Toyota was the first to suggest it would suspend diesel production in January 2018, halting sales in Italy and France. Porsche also announced that it would be ending its association with the diesel engine.

The company says that by 2022, it will have invested more than €6 billion in e-mobility creating the basis for sustainable growth in the future. It also believes that interest in hybrid models is taking off, with 63% of its Panamera models sold in Europe having a hybrid powertrain.

Nissan said it would cease to launch any new passenger vehicles with a diesel engine from 2021, although it will continue to offer the option on commercial vehicles and pickup trucks, where the fuel remains dominant. French automotive manufacturer Renault is also to reduce its diesel range in Europe as it looks to expand its hybrid presence in the region.