Diesel deathwatch? UK to offer owners £2,000 to scrap their diesels

April 17, 2017

Auto industry observers have long predicted the death of diesels in the U.S.--though to be fair, that's not a shocking idea.

Diesels never really caught on with American motorists, and the fuel savings diesel cars offer have been diminished by hordes of hybrids and electric vehicles zipping quietly over the horizon. Volkswagen's Dieselgate scandal has been the nail in diesel's U.S. coffin. 

Across the Atlantic, the situation has been very different, with many consumers opting for diesel rides. But a movement is afoot to get some of those vehicles off the roads, and the government's planning to offer owners up to £2,000 to trade in their diesels for newer, more fuel-efficient models. 

Details of the plan haven't been published by the government yet, but they're expected to appear within the coming days. Insiders suggest that the "cash-for-clunkers" incentives will be aimed at drivers of older-model diesels, and there are plenty of those to choose from: roughly 17 percent of the 11.2 million diesels registered in the U.K. are more than 12 years old.

The plan may also be limited geographically, targeting the U.K.'s largest, most polluted cities like London and Birmingham. And some have suggested that the scheme will be focused on lower-income residents.  

Early estimates suggest that the plan could send 150,000 vehicles to the scrapyard. Organizers are dreaming bigger, though, asking for £500 million to pay for the removal of nearly 500,000 vehicles. If they're successful, the plan would surpass the cash-for-clunkers program of 2009/2010, which junked some 400,000 U.K. cars.

Why now?

Pollution is a worldwide problem, and it's often concentrated in cities full of cars. Countries and municipalities are attempting to deal with the issue in a variety of ways: China, for example, has been on a scrappage spree for the past couple of years, and Paris has banned older cars from traveling through the center of town.

Cleaning up isn't just a matter of civic pride (though there's plenty of that, too). It's also intended to keep cities attractive to businesses and tourists, and to reduce health costs. Pollution can lead to a host of health problems and premature deaths. In 2013 alone, nearly 12,000 U.K. fatalities were linked to nitrogen dioxide, the primary pollutant emitted by diesel vehicles.

Will U.K. residents go for the plan? Signs point to yes. A recent survey of 20,000 U.K. drivers found that roughly 70 percent of them were in favor of a diesel-focused cash-for-clunkers program. 

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