The government must ‘back’ new diesel cars if it is to combat climate change and stabilise the volatile car market, a leading industry executive has said.

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents car makers and dealers, said ‘new-tech diesel’ could deliver emissions reductions in a way hybrids and electric cars were not yet capable of replicating.

Although their numbers are swelling, hybrid, electric and hydrogen-powered cars currently make up just 1 in 20 new car sales, while petrol accounts for almost 62%.

Diesel, meanwhile, has been hit by scandals and concerns surrounding air quality, causing its market share to fall from 43.8% in June 2017 to 32.6% in June 2018.

Hawes has previously asserted that this has been partly fuelled by confusing government policy and misleading media coverage, which have combined to give diesel a bad name.

According to Hawes, the government should support modern diesel engines, which emit fewer dangerous nitrogen oxide particles than ever before, and produce less carbon dioxide than equivalent petrol engines, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking as the SMMT announced a 3.5% decline in new car registrations in June, Hawes said the government should promote a ‘technology-neutral’ strategy that encourages drivers to buy the car that suits them best, rather than concentrate on fuel type.

‘It’s great to see demand for alternatively fuelled vehicles continue to rise,’ he said. ‘Given these cars still represent only one in 20 registrations, however, they cannot yet have the impact in driving down overall emissions that conventional vehicles, including diesels, continue to deliver.

‘Recent government statements acknowledging the importance of petrol and diesel are encouraging. However, we now need a strategy that supports industry investment into next-generation technologies and puts motorists back in the driving seat, encouraged to buy the car that best suits their needs – whatever its fuel type.’