Motorists in Birmingham have slammed the brakes on diesel car sales amid a “green” backlash.
The total number of diesel cars registered in the city fell by 14,329 in 2018, according to new data from the DVLA and Department for Transport.
That compares to a rise of 17,076 in 2017.
It still means there are 336,526 diesel cars registered in Birmingham. But the fact the number is finally falling – from 350,855 at the end of 2017 – is significant.
At the same time, the number of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) in the city rose by 4,482 in 2018 to a total of 16,719.
ULEVs are cars that emit less than 75g of CO2/km from the exhaust, and can travel for at least 10 miles while creating zero emissions. They include “pure” electric cars and plug-in hybrids.
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London this month became the first city to introduce extra charges for cars that fail to meet certain low-emission standards.
Diesel cars saw a boom that began in the late 1990s after the UK signed the Kyoto protocol.
That required a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – and in particular carbon dioxide.
The then Labour government introduced new tax rates that favoured diesels, since they produced less carbon dioxide than the petrol cars of the time.
However, that ignored the fact they were producing more nitrogen oxides and other particulate matter.
Then in 2015 a report was published in the US that found Volkwagen had deliberately cheated emissions tests, with diesel models polluting up to 40 times above legal limits.
Since then – despite improvements in “cleaning up” diesel engines – a number of cities have discussed diesel bans or taxes, and the UK government is planning to end the sale of exclusively petrol or diesel cars by 2040.
The new data shows that, overall, there were 658,008 cars of all types registered in Birmingham at the end of 2018.
That was down from 659,249 at the end of 2017.
Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: “The UK’s car culture is catastrophic for our nation’s health.
“It’s encouraging that data suggests people are finally beginning to cool on cars – particularly toxic diesel – but far more urgent action is required.
“Recent reports showed that a fifth of all asthma cases in youngsters – and nearly a third in London – are caused by diesel fumes. If this isn’t reason enough to get out of dirty diesel once and for all, what is?”
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “While the number of licensed vehicles on our roads is up slightly, 2018 overall was a bad year for new vehicle registrations, and especially for the sale of new diesels.
“The data suggests people may be holding onto their vehicles for longer, particularly older diesels, no doubt due to the uncertainty about what type of vehicle they should be opting for next.
“A rise in the number of ultra-low emission vehicle registrations is welcome, but ultimately sales of these vehicles still only make up just over 2% of all new vehicles sold. We really need to see this accelerate more quickly if air quality is to be improved. With many manufacturers launching new models with better battery range, the outlook is much more positive.”