Why Diesel Cars Make Sense only for a small percentage of users in India

In the early 2010s, the difference between diesel and petrol prices rose to a very significant 50 percent. Plus, diesel engines made their way into smaller cars—hatchbacks and premium hatchbacks. The result was that, in 2013, diesel cars made up a whopping 47 percent of total car sales, according to global information provider HIS Markit.

For some buyers, the hangover continues. They still prefer diesel, largely because they think it saves them money. In 2019 [fiscal], 23 percent of cars sold by Maruti Suzuki India Limited were diesels—despite the fact that by the last quarter of the financial year, it had stopped selling diesel variants of many of its models. For some other carmakers, diesel variants still make up a third of car sales. One can, therefore, presume that close to one in three cars sold last year was powered by a diesel engine.

Do diesels make economic sense anymore?

Absolutely not.

Consider this: At the time of writing, one litre of petrol costs Rs. 71.26 while diesel is just marginally lower at Rs. 69.39 in Delhi. The is a far cry from the days when petrol prices were in the Rs. 60 range while diesel was around just Rs. 40. Gone, too, are the days when diesel beat petrol by miles, in terms of mileage.

Petrol engines have come a long way. The all-aluminium K-Series engines from MSIL with innovative rocker-less DOHC Camshaft, Plastic Intake Manifold and Offset crankshaft with low tension rings, reduces power transmission losses and improve fuel efficiency. Further, enhanced thermal efficiency and increased compression ratio help boost efficient conversion of fuel into energy.

It is not uncommon for a petrol-powered Maruti Suzuki car to return 24-25 kmpl. And it does so while being peppy and fun to drive, in addition to being so much quieter inside the cabin.

The numbers are stacked against diesel

Let’s do some simple math: If a petrol car does 21.7 kilometres/litre and its diesel counterpart delivers 4 kilometres/litre more, then the per kilometre running cost comes to Rs. 3.28 and Rs. 2.7, respectively. That is a saving of less than 60 paise, or, 58 paise to be exact.

The on-road price difference between petrol and diesel turns out to be around Rs. 1.5 lakh for a premium hatchback. So, if you want to recover this extra Rs. 1.5 lakh, you will have to drive the car for 2.57 lakh kilometres.

That is a lot of kilometres. If you keep the car for five years, that would mean 51,381 kilometres a year or a 4,281 kilometre a month. Do you really drive that much?

How much do we really drive our cars?

We at Cartoq looked up our database of 128,578 used cars listed on various online used-car platforms to find out how much people actually drive their cars. Here are some numbers:

Average Monthly Usage
FUEL No. of cars Average Monthly Usage in KM
PETROL 68,704 858
DIESEL 59,872 1,100

 

While those with diesel, cars did clock higher monthly usage—1,100 kilometres compared with 858 kilometres for petrol—it is nowhere near the usage of 4,281 kilometres required to break even on the additional cost of buying a diesel car. In fact, if you drive just 1,100 kilometres every month, you will need 19 years and five months to recover the additional cost. That is well beyond the useful life of any car—that is, if the laws allow you to keep running the car for that long!

‘But those are averages, they don’t represent all buyers,’ we hear you say. Right, so let’s look at the data below for diesel cars:

Percentage of Cars / Monthly Mileage
Under 500km/month 501-1000 km/month 1001-1500 km/month 1501-2000 km/month 2000+ km/month
Number of Diesel Cars 2,907 26,567 19,888 6,804 3,706
% of Diesel Cars 4.86% 44.37% 33.22% 11.36% 6.19%

 

Nearly 50 percent of all those who bought a diesel drove their cars less than 1,000 kilometres. And as the usage bracket rises, the percentage of users falls. Thirty-three percent drove their cars between 1,001-1,500 kilometres while only 11 percent of the cars were driven in range of 1,501-2,000 kilometres. And just 6.2% of cars were driven more than 2,000 kilometres/month. How many cars driven for more than 4,000 kilometres required to recover the additional cost a diesel car? Well, a small percentage of a very small percentage of 6.2%. In other words, hardly any.

Conclusion

The 4,000 kilometres-plus monthly mileage is usually taxi territory. Very few personal car owners, if any, drive their cars so much. The average mileage of 1,100 is pretty much what heavy users are likely to clock.  And at that usage level, your savings in fuel over five years will be Rs. 38,535. In other words, by buying a diesel car, you are spending Rs. 1.5 lakh extra to save Rs. 38,535! Now, that’s a hangover—and an expensive one at that!

Want to see your photo feature about that exciting road trip published on Cartoq? Share your details here