Car sales dropped by 5.7% in 2017, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The industry body announced that around 2.5 million cars were sold last year, compared to 2.69 million in 2016, marking a decline in sales for the first time in six years.
Sales of diesel cars were down 17.1% over 2016. Higher tax rates and concerns over emissions and pollution have driven down demand for diesel cars.
Despite the decline in sales, Mike Hawes, SMMT’s chief executive, said demand for new cars was at ‘historically high levels’. Sales are unlikely to rise in 2018 though, he believes.
But with fewer car sales, manufacturers may offer better incentives and deals for customers.
Find top-rated cars in every class in our list of the best cars.
Should you buy a diesel car?
Uncertainty over tax rates and concerns over air pollution means diesel cars are no longer the de facto choice for drivers looking for cars that are cheaper to run.
The changes to how cars are taxed means you won’t recoup the additional cost of buying a diesel car as quickly through low tax rates and fuel bills. Tax on cars registered after 1 April 2017 is based on CO2 emissions for the first year, and £140 per year after that. Before the changes, a diesel Ford Focus would cost you around £20 a year in tax, so the increase is significant. This has hurt diesel car sales.
Total emissions from new cars rose for the first time in 20 years.
The total emissions from new cars rose by 0.8% in 2017. This is the first time this has happened in 20 years. The emissions and air-pollution caused by diesel cars means they will be banned from 2040.
Meanwhile, petrol engines are becoming more efficient, which makes them a more viable option, even for anyone driving long distances. Diesel drivers can still expect to save £245 per year, on average, in fuel costs, but the extra tax cuts into that saving.
For more on the differences between petrol and diesel, and help choosing which fuel is right for you, read our petrol vs diesel advice.
Is now a good time to buy a new car?
A decline in sales means manufacturers will need to incentivise customers to buy their cars. This means there are likely to be some good deals around, particularly on diesel cars.
We conduct our own emissions tests on all the cars we review, so you can buy a diesel car knowing that you don’t have an especially dirty model releasing too much nitrous oxide into the air.
The increased ranges of hybrid and electric cars means they are becoming more practical for motorists, although the recent tax means you’ll be paying more than previously. The first-year payment, which is based on emissions, is likely to be very low or possibly free, but the cost rises to £130 in subsequent years: just £10 less than petrol and diesel cars.
Read our car tax explained guide to see exactly how much you’ll pay on a new car.