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BMW Aus predicts major diesel decline

Oil burned: BMW has already dropped diesel versions of its 4 and 2 Series (left) range in Australia.

Fall in diesel passenger car popularity forces BMW to cull models

5 Mar 2017

BMW Australia head of product planning Shawn Ticehurst has revealed the extent of the decline in diesel passenger car demand, forcing the brand to start culling the fuel type from several models after former best sellers lost their title.

Speaking at the national media launch of the seventh-generation 5 Series in Adelaide this week, Mr Ticehurst confirmed that in the 1 Series range the 118d had shifted from best to lowest seller, while in the 3 Series line-up the 320d had been usurped by the 330i and even the pricey petrol flagship 340i.

“(There is) a market shift to petrols now that we’re seeing across all segments, except SUVs,” he noted.

“We’ve seen in 3 Series that diesel was previously the best seller, it used to be 320d now it’s 330i. On 1 Series it used to be 118d and now 125i. The 118d is now the least selling variant. With 3 Series (the) 340i has done quite well now.

“So we’ve seen that switch.” Mr Ticehurst said the move away from diesel-engined passenger cars started “three or four years ago” as petrol engines became more fuel efficient.

It has now led BMW Australia to forecast that the top-selling new-gen 5 Series variant will be the entry petrol 530i and not the entry diesel 520d that previously snared 41 per cent of volume, but has fallen to a forecast 30 per cent.

The 528i replacement, meanwhile, is tipped to rise from 24 per cent of sales previously, to 40 per cent this year.

“There was a point where we launched a whole new generation of diesel engines that were really good, and power was up, torque was strong, fuel economy was still there,” he recalled.

“We’ve now gone through this whole switch with all our petrol engines that are newer generations, and this is the first time that 5 Series gets those new engines.

“The other thing too is the way that we’ve structured the range now is that with a few of the option packages that people might want with 520d … by the time you add those things you go, well, I’ll take the 530i unless you really want a diesel.” With the previous-generation 5 Series, the 520d’s claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres was 1.3L/100km thriftier than the petrol 528i. However, compared with the latter’s 530i replacement in the new generation, the gap has actually extended to 1.5L/100km, diesel to petrol.

Mr Ticehurst further linked the diesel decline to issues not only surrounding Volkswagen’s ‘dieselgate’ emissions-cheating scandal, but global news that could have tainted the fuel’s image in Australia.

“People who are in the know in the car industry are starting to read things about countries like France banning diesels,” he noted.

“If people are really reading this stuff, they might be thinking ‘oh I shouldn’ t buy diesel’. Others will say ‘nope, I love my diesel’.” Asked whether he could see a time when BMW Australia phased out diesel from its passenger car range, the head of product planning replied: “Not in the near future, but...

“We’ve still got buyers who like them, still some rural buyers who do long drives where fuel economy and all that is brilliant,” he added.

But the move to reduce diesel availability in certain model lines has already started, Mr Ticehurst also confirmed.

“In the next few years I expect we’ll still offer a diesel 3 Series, diesel 5 Series, diesel 1 Series, but we are now starting to drop them from things like 2 Series and 4 Series coupes and convertibles because we were just seeing the market change,” he said.

But Mr Ticehurst does not see the plug-in hybrid as usurping the role of the diesel in the market, despite petrol fuel consumption that at times can be half that of the equivalent entry diesel model.

“As we always say to people, it’s horses for courses on this one,” he explained.

“If you do city commuting a plug-in hybrid makes perfect sense. If you do highway driving then frankly a diesel is what you should be buying, because you won’t get the benefits out of a plug-in hybrid.

“Where a combustion engine in peak-hour traffic is at its least efficient – diesel, petrol, whatever – a plug-in hybrid is at its most efficient. I think diesels will play a role yet.” In Australia in 2016, private-buyer diesel passenger car sales dropped by 29.5 per cent from 9418 to 6641 units. Non-private buyers did not turn away to the same degree, with sales falling 4.1 per cent from 14,429 to 13,841 units.

Meanwhile petrol passenger car sales fell by 10.2 per cent in the private sector, and grew by 1.4 per cent in the non-private sector. At the same time, diesel SUV sales dropped by 4.1 per cent private, and soared by 26.1 per cent non-private.

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