Breaking down India’s diesel plan, in 4 charts

Private cars account for only 12.4% of diesel use.
Private cars account for only 12.4% of diesel use.


  • Around 81% of all the diesel consumed in India is used in transport as of 2021, a rise from 70% in 2013, showed data from the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell

Earlier this year, a government panel recommended a ban on diesel-run four-wheelers by 2027 in all urban centres with a population of over 1 million or with high pollution levels. The ban, if implemented, would join a series of such policies globally that aim to phase out fossil-powered vehicles and decarbonize road transport.

The Centre is yet to approve the idea, but the proposal is a major step for India after several countries pledged at COP26 in 2021, along with top carmakers, to phase out such vehicles by 2040. Around 81% of all the diesel consumed in India is used in transport as of 2021, a rise from 70% in 2013, showed data from the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.

But private cars account for only 12.4% of diesel use. The 52 cities that had million-plus population as of 2011 have an estimated 5.5 million diesel cars, showed registrations data compiled from 111 transport offices. But there are millions of trucks and buses, too, which make up 55% of India’s diesel use and aren’t part of the proposal yet.

Dr. Himani Jain, senior programme lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a think-tank, said a ban on movement would be merely location-based (in large cities), and wouldn’t be a ban on sales. “The ban could possibly move polluting vehicles from big cities to smaller cities, rural or peri-urban areas, rather than eliminate them," she said. However, from a pollution perspective, she sees greater benefits from a modal shift to bus-based public transport than from merely technology transitions.

Several developed countries are actively moving to phase out fossil-powered vehicles. The European Union has approved legislation to prohibit the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans in the bloc starting 2035.

Changing Preferences

The market share of diesel cars was already rapidly declining. A decade ago, nearly half of all cars registered in India were diesel-run, exceeding petrol vehicles. That was when diesel was cheaper. But the trend began reversing after diesel prices became market-linked in 2014, and as of May 2023, the share has come down to 18%.

The narrowing price difference along with government initiatives to reduce carbon emissions has made petrol cars more appealing to consumers. While diesel four-wheeler registrations halved in the last decade, the figure has doubled for petrol vehicles, which are also polluting. Experts also suggest taxation measures and disincentivizing the use of existing diesel vehicles via economic instruments such as road pricing to discourage their use. Delhi has already banned, since 2014, petrol and diesel vehicles older than 15 and 10 years, respectively, as a measure to combat air pollution. Expect the numbers to fall down further.

End of an Era?

Not just governments, automakers worldwide are also increasingly announcing plans to halt or significantly cut the production of diesel cars—both due to larger policy changes and due to their own net-zero-emission commitments. Maruti Suzuki discontinued diesel vehicle production before the implementation of Bharat Stage-VI (BS-VI) emission standards in April 2020. In February, Honda joined the club by declaring an end to diesel engine production in India due to difficulties in meeting the real driving emissions (RDE) test.

The second phase of the BS-VI fuel norms has eliminated the diesel engine from the affordable sedan segment, limiting diesel-powered sedans mostly to the premium segment. Luxury car brands like Land Rover and Mercedes continue to sell a significant share of diesel vehicles, as per data from research firm JATO Dynamics. The Indian automotive sector will need to adopt future-oriented technologies for their growth as policies evolve.

Transition Tools

The Energy Transition Advisory Committee, which recommended the ban, has proposed a long-term focus on transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) with CNG as a transition fuel for up to 10-15 years, and possibly hybrids in the short and medium terms. EVs, with considerably lower emissions, will be important for decarbonization and anti-pollution goals.

"The government should put more focus on expanding the infrastructure for EV charging stations and policies that encourage more EVs. This is because if you get away with one kind of fleet, you need other options to be there," said Vibhuti Garg, energy economist at Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, an independent energy think-tank.

Despite the decline in private diesel vehicles, completely eliminating them will be tough. Achieving this goal would need fundamental societal shifts, with citizens taking the onus to promote pollution-free transportation alternatives.

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