The UK, however, is very much the exception, and the diesel market here is continuing to shrink. In its latest annual diesel report, Ricardo says Britain's fuel pricing policy, which makes diesel more expensive than petrol, is largely to blame, along with the perception that diesel is 'dirty fuel'.
This is re-enforced by the Government's forthcoming company car BIK taxation regime, which from April 2002 will penalise diesel with a 3% supplement. However, leading diesel manufacturers have joined forces with sister title Fleet News in calling for the tariff to be axed.
Overall, diesel penetration across Europe in the first 10 months of 1999 reached a record level of 27.6%, eclipsing the previous year's record of 24.8% market share - equivalent to sales of 3.55 million vehicles. And diesel sales over the past two years have been increasing at the rate of about 20% per year. The UK, however, has bucked this trend, falling from a peak of 23% in 1994 to 14% in 1999 with sales of 304,000 vehicles. However, 2000 half-year sales are fractionally up on the same period last year.
Report author Martin Love describes Britain's diesel decline as 'remarkable'. 'The UK is the only major market in Europe that favours petrol in terms of price,' he said. 'Another factor is the perception of the relative seriousness of petrol and diesel emissions.'
Ricardo's report concludes further significant increases in diesel penetration from the present 25% level is likely to occur over the next 10 years on the continent.
'Prospects for diesel seem to be for continued growth and it would not be surprising to see up to 40% penetration over the coming decade,' said Love.
The report, which costs 195 Euros, can be obtained from Power Systems Research on + (32) 26 441828.