Why diesel is dying: Hybrids power Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester and Ford Escape into the future

Diesel is coming to the end of the road.

Only a few years ago, the fuel economy and torque benefits of turbo-diesels made it a popular choice for car makers, with everything from city cars to SUVs, and dual-cab utes running oil-burners.

But now, in 2020, diesel is in steep decline, with only a handful of older passenger cars left with diesel power, and even small and mid-size SUVs opting to dump it.

The rise of electrification coupled with the Volkswagen Group emissions scandal have fast forwarded diesel’s demise, but the improvements in petrol engines has also played a part.

A look at the latest VFACTS sales data released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries this week makes the trend away from diesel very clear.

Private passenger car diesel sales are down more than 45 per cent, and private SUV diesel sales are down nearly 32 per cent. It’s a similar story with fleet purchases, with diesel passenger and SUV sales both down (by 42.8% nearly 28% respectively).

Hyundai is the only brand to still over a diesel option in the small car space, but even it will drop the diesel i30 when the facelifted model arrives later this year. The diesel i30 made up only three per cent of its sales mix in 2019.

Meanwhile, sales of electric/plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids are on the rise. Private EV/PHEV passenger car sales are up 45 per cent and SUVs are up 115 per cent, while hybrids are up 31 and 11 per cent respectively.

Even if EV/PHEV sales are coming from a low base, there is a clear shift from diesel to electrified vehicles in Australia.

Toyota has long been a leader in hybrid and its decision to drop diesel from its current RAV4 line-up in favour of an expansive hybrid hasn’t hurt its sales – they’re up more than 40 per cent year-to-date despite the COVID-19 induced sales decline across the market.

Toyota isn’t alone dropping diesel and promoting more efficient petrol and hybrid powertrains in its small and mid-size SUVs.

Subaru recently introduced the e-Boxer engine to its XV and Forester, Volkswagen no longer offers a diesel, while Ford will sell the new Escape with only petrol or a PHEV option.

A Ford spokesman explained why the company believes there has been a shift away from diesel in its smaller models.

“Australian customers love the efficiency, strength and smoothness advantages of modern diesels in vehicles such as Ranger, Everest and Endura, but for more urban-focused models and lifestyles, hybrid and ultra-efficient EcoBoost powertrains have strong appeal,” the spokesperson said.

“Customers for Escape and the new Puma, for instance, generally make shorter journeys, quick trips and don’t need their vehicle to tow, which makes the hybrid and EcoBoost choices ideal. We’ve found that diesel really comes into its own for larger, family-sized vehicles and workhorses.”

Commercial vehicles operate on different emissions standards and the torque benefits of diesel mean it’s likely it will remain a popular choice in utes and large SUVs in the immediate future.

Although some brands have already begun shifting away from diesel in large SUVs, for example Porsche only offers its Cayenne with petrol or hybrid, and it’s expected that Hyundai will offer the new Santa Fe with a hybrid option, alongside diesel.