Since the 1990s, diesel engines have seen a boom in Europe, with many passenger car buyers preferring them to their petrol counterparts. However, ever since Volkswagen’s Dieselgate broke out in 2015, oil-burners have started to lose popularity; at their peak before the scandal, diesels accounted for roughly half of new car passenger sales.

They still make up a significant chunk of new car sales in Europe, though—19% (160,000 sales) in December 2021 across 18 western European countries, according to Berlin-based Schmidt Automotive Research.

That said, the diesel engine’s decline in Europe seems irreversible given that battery electric vehicle (BEV) sales overtook diesel-powered vehicle sales last month, reaching a market share of 21% (176,000 sales).

 

It’s the first time pure electric vehicles surpassed diesels in monthly sales in Europe, although electrified vehicles (hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles combined) did outsell diesels for the first time in September 2020.

According to Schmidt Automotive Research founder Matthias Schmidt, who told Automotive News Europe his data is “99% confirmed,” December’s high EV sales figure was partly driven by automakers ensuring they complied with CO2 emissions targets for the EU and UK to avoid fines.

December sales were also boosted by Tesla, which is known to register more vehicles at the end of a quarter. For example, there were 9,613 Tesla Model 3s registered in the UK in December, accounting for 28% of the model's total sales for the year in the country, according to UK automotive association SMMT.

 

Speaking of Tesla, Matthias Schmidt's data place it as western Europe's best-selling US brand in December 2021, with 34,700 sales compared to Ford's 31,800.

Sales of diesels had been falling throughout the year but were still running above EVs through the first three quarters, data from the European automotive lobby group ACEA showed.

Through September, there were 2.3 million diesels registered in the EU, UK, and EFTA countries, a decline of 26% over 2020. During the same period, 801,025 EVs were registered, an increase of 91%. This shows there's still a long way before pure electric cars outsell diesels in yearly sales, but the trend is clearly in their favour.