Press releases

Sales of new diesel cars plummet as campaigners call for ‘The End of Diesel Fumes’

  • New analysis by Clean Cities Campaign shows less than 8% of all new car registrations in London were diesel in 2021
  • Across UK, diesel sales have fallen by 90% while electric car sales have increased 1,674%
  • Islington could be first borough to go diesel free, with no new diesel cars predicted by mid 2023
  • Mums for Lungs campaign group urge final push on diesel with eye-catching billboards to call for ‘The End of Diesel Fumes’.

Analysis by the Clean Cities Campaign shows the sales of new diesel cars are in freefall as less than 8% of all new car registrations in London were diesel in 20211, compared to 13% in 2020 and 20% in 2019.

The data reveals Islington could be on track to be the first London borough to go diesel free with a total of 6,818 diesel cars registered – the lowest of any borough – and just 69 new diesel cars estimated to have been purchased in 2021. Islington introduced a diesel surcharge on resident permits in 2015 and other boroughs have adopted similar measures. Islington could potentially be free of new diesel cars by the middle of 2023. 

Based on trends from the last five years, campaigners estimate that even the least optimistic scenario, and with the right action from local councillors, there will be no new diesel cars registered in Islington in the next 12 months.

Clean Cities Campaign partner, Mums for Lungs, are urging all boroughs ahead of the local elections to go a step further by providing no new parking permits for diesel cars from 2023 (exempting blue badge holders), where controlled parking zones are applied2

Boroughs with the fewest diesel cars are mostly in Inner London where registrations are lowest and where the London Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone has been in place since April 20193. However, campaigners feel that some Inner London boroughs could be going further and faster. This includes Wandsworth, which is yet to introduce a diesel surcharge on residents permits. 
Diesel accounts for 28% of residents’ cars in Wandsworth – putting it on par with Havering, Hillingdon and Hounslow as one of the areas where residents are more likely to own diesel cars in London (see Table 3) – despite also being in the Ultra Low Emission Zone. New billboards have been launched in Wandsworth in an upbeat theme of a music festival, placing local schools on the ‘main stage’ of ‘The End of Diesel Fumes’ to encourage more action.

Across the UK, more battery electric (BEV) cars (51,000) were registered for the first time in Great Britain during 2021 Q3 than diesel cars (35,000), following a 44% increase in BEV cars compared to 2020 Q3. Over the same period, by contrast, there were falls of 41% and 66% for petrol and diesel cars respectively4.

In the last five years (Q3 2016 – Q3 2021), across the UK, there has been a fall of nearly 90% (89.4%) in the number of diesel cars purchased in the UK, while there has been a 1,674% increase in the number of battery electric cars purchased, albeit from a low starting point. However, there is still some way to go before campaigners can truly celebrate the end of polluting cars as petrol and diesel sales still oustrip electric car sales by five to 1 (255,000 petrol and diesel cars registered in Q3 2021 versus 51,100 electric cars).5

Oliver Lord, UK Head of Clean Cities Campaign, said:

“After years of campaigning and industry smokescreens, the end is in sight for diesel cars. We’ll go far quicker, and save thousands more lives if we give them a final push into the scrapyard. Local authorities must do everything they can to nudge behaviour, including ending car parking permits for new diesel cars from next year and committing to go diesel free by 2030. This would create an important milestone on the journey to healthy air and tackling the climate crisis.”

Despite the downward trend in some areas, diesel is still a disproportionate contributor to air pollution. Recent research showed that diesel cars in London cause three times as much pollution as trucks and lorries6. Pollution from diesel cars contributes to the early deaths of 4,000 Londoners and leads to debilitating illness at an early age, including stunted lungs and conditions from asthma to heart disease7.

In order to ensure that diesel cars are phased out quickly, campaigners are calling for councils to stop providing permits for new diesel cars from next year (2023) with an exemption for blue badge holders. Existing permits would be honoured. 

Mums for Lungs have asked the four main parties in every borough to completely phase out all diesel car parking permits by 2030, and for car parking to take emissions into account by 2023, with controlled parking zones in every part of the capital

Lucy Facer, a mum and co-founder of the Islington Clean Air Parents group, said:
“Diesel pollution is very damaging to children’s health. Our local decision makers need to agree policies that ensure Islington has zero new diesel cars by 2023 and help prevent long-term damage to their health.” 

David Nicholson, Wandsworth resident and member of Mums for Lungs, said

“Fifteen years ago we called time on cigarette smoke in pubs. Local councils must now call time on diesel smoke in our communities contaminating the air we breathe. This is especially important to protect children, people with asthma and less well off people who are forced to live next to busy roads.” 

A coalition of 28 campaign groups brought together by Mums for Lungs and the Clean Cities Campaign have signed a joint declaration urging council candidates to commit to cleaning up London’s toxic air ahead of elections in May, including phasing out diesel cars. The ‘#CleanAirWins’ campaign will put the positive and upbeat case for action on clean air, demonstrating the popularity of such policies. 

The groups, led by the Clean Cities Campaign and Mums for Lungs include Friends of the Earth, Sustrans and Living Streets. 

Table 1 – analysis of DfT dataset provided to Clean Cities based on VEH0253New car registrations in London

YearTotalDieselOtherFull electric
2016173,02168,844 (39.8%)102,7391,438
2017167,94656,283 (33.5%)108,9942,669
2018159,44137,705 (23.6%)119,2022,534
2019159,91831,968 (20.0%)123,5134,437
2020107,25614,234 (13.3%)84,0618,961
2021*114,6638,529 (7.4%)90,91115,223
*Q32021 data and extrapolated to the entire year.

Table 2 – analysis of DfT dataset VEH0253 – New car registrations in UK

YearTotalDieselOtherFull electric
20162,665,2511,262,521 (47.4%)1,392,45810,272
20172,509,3301,047,685 (41.8%)1,447,95313,692
20182,341,505735,720 (31.4%)1,590,20615,579
20192,295,409604,528 (26.3%)1,653,27637,605
20201,619,957295,190 (18.2%)1,218,085106,682
2021*1,741,867218,620 (12.6%)1,358,804164,443
*Q32021 data and extrapolated to the entire year.

Table 3 – analysis of DfT dataset provided to Clean Cities showing licensed cars at the end of the year by propulsion / fuel type and London ward

Inner London

BoroughTotal registered cars (as of Q3 2021)Total diesel cars (as of Q3 2021)% cars diesel (as of Q3 2021)New diesel cars registered in 2021*
Hammersmith and Fulham41,3098,63221%
Kensington and Chelsea39,2098,55122%263
Tower Hamlets50,4318,99118%176
*DfT Q32021 data and extrapolated to the entire year.

Outer London

BoroughTotal registered cars (as of Q3 2021)No. of diesel cars (as of Q3 2021)% cars diesel (as of Q3 2021)New diesel cars registered in 2021*
Barking and Dagenham71,48420,28928%195
Kingston upon Thames60,69715,76926%116
Richmond upon Thames75,96517,99024%185
Waltham Forest55,02415,05227%231
*DfT Q32021 data and extrapolated to the entire year.

Table 4 – five year trend of car sales in UK (DfT table VEH0253)

DatePetrolDieselHybrid Electric 1Plug-in Hybrid Electric 2Battery Electric
2016 Q3368.9345.
2016 Q4266.8262.6115.62.2
2017 Q1430.4362.4217.34.7
2017 Q2305.4255.4156.83.1
2017 Q3362.8272.422.49.33.5
2017 Q4270.7183.413.89.32.6
2018 Q1445.2242.2239.94.1
2018 Q2375.2188.621.411.23.6
2018 Q3381.2180.527.110.93.8
2018 Q4288.2144.316.710.14.2
2019 Q1473194.
2019 Q2379.1159.324.86.66.3
2019 Q3396.7152.231.77.912.9
2019 Q4291.3116.425.81212.8
2020 Q1315106.53813.718.3
2020 Q2107.530.914.55.912.7
2020 Q3367.110667.123.135.6
2020 Q4218.461.148.324.741.3
2021 Q1244.969.360.826.831.7
2021 Q2275.763.57532.242.1
2021 Q3218.636.5782951.1
Change 2016 Q3 – 2021 Q3-89.40448.10%328.90%

Mums for Lungs – Call for a diesel free borough by 2030

We want to see a commitment to phasing out diesel car ownership across boroughs by 2030. Research by the Environmental Defense Fund (Europe) highlights really clearly that diesel is the single biggest contributor of NOx/NO2 (which is the pollutant that inflames lungs, and is closely linked to childhood asthma and wheezing). Reducing the number of diesel engines in the city would be a bold and effective step towards cleaning up our air.

The Government has promised to phase out the internal combustion engine by 2030, with all cars to be zero (tailpipe) emission by 2035. We need to see councils being bold, and taking strong action to help consign diesel to the past.

Ideas for implementing a diesel phase-out include:

  • Providing no new parking permits for diesel cars from 2023 (exempting blue badge holders), where controlled parking zones are applied. Existing permits would remain.
  • A complete phase-out of diesel car parking permits by 2030.
  • All paid for car parking (e.g. pay-and-display) to take emissions into account by 2023.
  • An on-street car parking reduction target, including local parks. 
  • Working with Business Investments Districts (BIDs) to reduce their emissions.
  • Introducing controlled parking zones across the boroughs.

List of groups supporting Clean Air Wins

  1. Clean Cities Campaign
  2. Action Vision Zero
  3. Asthma + Lung UK
  4. Brent Cycling Campaign
  5. Choked Up
  6. Clean Air Dulwich
  7. Clean Air In London
  8. CPRE London
  9. Cycle Sisters
  10. Cycling Instructors Union (IWGB-CIB)
  11. Ella Roberta Family Foundation
  12. Friends of the Earth
  13. Friends of the Earth London network8
  14. Inspiring Sustainable Islington
  15. Islington Clean Air Parents
  16. Hackney Cycling Campaign
  17. Hackney New Primary School Parents Campaign
  18. Joy Riders UK
  19. Living Streets
  20. Living Streets Group London
  21. London Parklet Campaign
  22. London Ramblers
  23. Mums for Lungs
  24. Possible
  25. Quality of Life Foundation
  26. Shad Thames’ Residents Association
  27. Sustrans
  28. Tower Hamlets Wheelers


[1]Projected from 2021(Q3) figures, which are the latest available. 2021(Q4) figures expected to be published by DfT in May. [2]Existing permits would remain. [3] NB. Major areas of Inner London were covered by the ULEZ when it was expanded in October 2021 [4]Vehicle Licensing Statistics: July to September 2021 [5] See summary in Table 4 sourced from [VEH0253] [6] Diesel cars in London cause three times as much pollution as trucks and lorries [7] Health burden of air pollution in London [8] Local grassroots group


Alex Bigham | Clean Cities Campaign | |+44 (0)7830 195 812
Oliver Lord | UK Head of the Clean Cities Campaign |

About Mums for Lungs
We are a grassroots network of people who care about air pollution. Mums for Lungs was established in Brixton, London in 2017, when a number of us were on parental leave together. We became aware of the toxic levels of air pollution on the UK’s streets while walking around with our babies, and decided we wanted to do something about it.

Mums For Lungs
Clean Cities Campaign

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