Despite efforts by Chevrolet to step into the void left by Volkswagen, sales of diesel passenger vehicles in the U.S. may have been permanently crippled by the VW diesel emission scandal.

In Europe, however, diesel has been entrenched for decades as roughly 50 percent of the market.

Even before the scandal, it wasn't expected to rise much beyond that—so the question became to what degree the global VW scandal would tarnish sales of all diesels.

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Thus far, it appears that the effect hasn't been that large.

According to statistics contained in a post last week from Navigant Research, higher sales last year within European markets lifted numeric sales of all powertrains—diesels included.

And author Scott Shepard, who's based in London, suggests that the overall impact of the scandal won't materially affect sales of diesel vehicles over the next several years.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Granted, the numeric rise in diesel sales was much lower than that for gasoline and plug-in cars, meaning diesel lost a small amount of market share.

Shepard points out, however, that diesel market share has actually been declining slowly since 2011, when it reached its EU peak of 55 percent of all passenger vehicles.

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That decline, he points out, correlates exactly with the 2012 arrival of the first volume plug-in electric vehicles offered in the market: both battery-electric cars like the Renault Zoe and partially electric offerings like the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid.

The relevant European sales statistics since then are striking:

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Diesel share lost over 20 percentage points in France and Belgium, over 15 in Spain, and over 10 in Luxembourg. Ireland remains unchanged, but Norway, which has the highest level of plug-in electric vehicle adoption at 24 percent, is down by over 45 percentage points.

Diesel share in the region is down 6 points overall and plug-ins have been the primary beneficiary, growing from effectively nothing in 2011 to around 1.3 percent in 2016. Hybrids have also made headway, especially in 2016, moving from 1.3 percent to over 1.5 percent.

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Shepard concludes that absent further widespread proof of cheating in the U.S. by Fiat Chrysler or other makers, diesels will remain a truck phenomenon in the U.S.

Sales of diesel passenger vehicles in North America are likely to "return to [their] marginal pre-VW-scandal share in the United States, with some upward potential."

In Europe, a market dominated by smaller vehicles, however, he sees continued decline in diesel share as sales of alternative powertrains—for which you can read vehicles with plugs—continue to grow.


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