Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Cars – a force for freedom

Electric Cars Subsidies – Not A Gimmick

So, the government wants to give us up to £5,000 to buy electric cars.

Whoop. Ee. Doo.

Where to start?

The intentions are good, let us assume. That is, let us assume that this isn’t just a stitch-on to the environmental cloak that the state bailout of certain car manufacturers is covered in, to get round EU state-aid rules. Let’s assume that the reason the government doesn’t just zero-rate the VAT on electric cars isn’t because the EU won’t let them.

Just how environmentally friendly is the idea? I’m not talking about the fact that the cars will still be charged from the existing power generation network – much of which runs on fossil fuels (until we see sense and start building nuclear again), but that fact that the intention is clearly to have – at the end of the chain – old cars being scrapped. Motor vehicles have the maximum impact on the environment at two points in their life: when they’re made, and when they’re scrapped. The best thing you can do with many vehicles – especially the older ones, which were made from less recyclable material (apart from the obvious metal), is to keep them on the road.

Then there is the small detail that might make one think this is just an ill-thought-through headline-grabbing gimmick: why electric cars? What about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? If the government is going to subsidise installation of the electric charging infrastructure, what happens if hydrogen proves more sustainable – environmentally and/or financially? If the energy companies find (as is quite possible) that it makes more sense for them to use their existing infrastructure to ship and sell hydrogen, what happens to all those taxpayer-subsidised plug sockets? It seems rather early to be putting all the eggs in one basket.

The biggest problem with electric cars, though, is not the cost – they already qualify for beneficial rates of road tax, company car tax treatment and, of course, don’t incur fuel duties. No: the problem is that they’re rubbish. And if you go for a less nerdy model like the Toyota Pious Prius, then you’re buying something which is more environmentally damaging in its production (some parts have to be shipped halfway around the world … twice) and heavier than an equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle.

Alternatively powered cars are coming, but like all new technology, it takes time to mature. It may be that this is another example of where the best thing government can do is nothing … because it doesn’t have to do anything.


Christmas Black Box


Speed-limiting devices should be fitted to cars on a voluntary basis to help save lives and cut carbon emissions, according to a new report.

The government’s transport advisers claim the technology would cut road accidents with injuries by 29%.

The device automatically slows a car down to within the limit for the road on which it is being driven.

Let’s get this straight: this is not about limiting speed. Why? Because there are already automatic speed control devices that drivers can use voluntarily – they’re called “cruise control” and do much the same job, albeit by allowing you to keep your foot off the throttle and covering the brake instead (so is probably safer than something which allows you to leave your foot on the accelerator). Let us not forget, either, that speed limiters are hardly much use on those mopeds whose west-side-gangsta-wannabe owners riders decide they are too cool to be limited to 30mph.

No, the key element in all this is the bit about the satellites. OK, stop laughing – I know I’m potentially into true tin-foil hat territory here, but the parallels between this story and the issue of ID cards is uncanny.

The real story with ID cards is not the plastic, but the infrastructure and the database that will be required to underpin it. So it is with speed limiters: it’s not the speed limiting capabilities, but the fact that it will enable a state-owned/regulated black box to be fitted in every vehicle, which can then be tracked.

ID cards are being paraded as the panacea to tackle the evils of terrorism, illegal immigration and, quite possibly (once the spin really gets going), third-world hunger. Speed limiters will tackle the evils of road deaths, climate change and, quite possibly, third-world hunger.

ID cards, like the speed limiters, are being introduced initially on a voluntary basis, which we all know is just an pre-cursor to their eventual compulsory introduction because they’ve been so successful/not quite successful enough/part of everyday life (helped no doubt by some thoroughly reliable and trustworthy government statistics).

I know, I know, speed kills. Well, technically at least, yes it can. However, the bottom line is that it’s not speed that kills, it’s the idiot behind the wheel, or the handlebars, or the careless pedestrian. What next? Personal black boxes?

OK, I’ll get my shiny hat….

Another By-election, another u-turn

… and no doubt they’ll be telling us in future how much better off we are because of the postponment of the planned 2p rise in fuel duty. No doubt, also, we are expected to be grateful that in a few months, petrol will be only 130p/litre and not 132p.

So, when the Conservatives propose cuts in fuel duty at times when fuel prices are high, it’s

“a dishonest gimmick which would mean the Tories would have to hike up taxes somewhere else or would mean a massive hole in the public finances.

“Either George Osborne doesn’t understand the way tax revenues work, or he’s prepared to play fast and loose with the public finances for the sake of a good headline.”

But when Labour postpone increases in fuel duty at time when fuel prices are high, it’s

“the right thing to do to help motorists and to help businesses.”

The ever-consistent Lib Dems, however are pouring scorn on both moves. You remember the Lib Dems: they were suggesting tax cuts a few months ago, and are the same party that wants/doesn’t want (delete deopending on day of week) a referendum on the EU.

Older, More Polluting Cars

“Older more polluting cars” has become a stock phrase of late, particularly with the storm brewing over the backdating of the road tax increases. Our dear national broadcaster used the phrase at the top of the news this morning, saying something like “Labour rebels and Conservatives are criticising the increase in tax on older more polluting cars”. This is a rather pejorative turn of phrase – why couldn’t they just say “road tax increase” or similar? It’s OK, though, I’m not going to launch into another rant about BBC bias and climate change, tempting though it is.

The arguments centre on the effects of the increase on poorer drivers and families, and rightly so, but in addition the blanket assumption that older cars are more polluting is wrong. My first car was 1961 Triumph Herald convertible. I doubt it had particularly clean emissions. “Aha!” says the tree-hugger, “it’s an older, more polluting car!” Er, no, because it used to go out fairly occasionally, and so contributed less CO2 in a typical year than my everyday (then) new Golf. Yet even if it wasn’t a second car, the most significant way in which my old Triumph was less polluting was that it was an older car – i.e. it was still on the road. Cars have the greatest impact on the environment when they are made, and when they are scrapped. Even when the old girl does come to the end of her life, as an older car with less plastics, no catalytic converter, no coolant filled air con system, and not much of anything else, most of the car will be easily recyclable steel.

Now, I concede that the Herald would be exempt from road tax anyway (though for how long?), and in any case is an extreme example (the road tax increase are only being backdated to 2001 cars) but the blind assumption that older cars are the chariot of the devil is one that should be challenged, if only on the main point that looking after an older car and keeping it on the road is the best thing an owner can do for the environment.

Of course, in truth the road tax changes have nothing to do with the environment – after all, what would they be trying to achieve? Clearly we can’t turn back time to not purchase the vehicles, so it must be trying to force us to take older cars off the road, which means in most cases scrapping them, and generating demand for new ones to be built – a double whammy for the environment. Yet surely Alistair Darling couldn’t be using the “climate change agenda” as an excuse just to raise environmentally irrelevant taxes?

Car Rants and Ramblings

Polite disclaimer – beauty is in the eye for the beholder, so owners of Jag estates, E-type 2+2s, VW Passats, etc, should not take this post personally.

It’s time. The old girl has done well for 13 years. Been to every corner of the country (including Ireland), served the cause through numerous election campaigns, but now it’s time for a change. Something bigger, and circumstances demand an estate.

Now estates have been on a rollercoaster of popularity in recent times, with the rise of MPVs and 4x4s, yet seem to be the more civilised of the trio of family-carrying options. Just as with 4x4s, though, the estate versions of popular saloons and hatchbacks don’t always work.

For instance, a Jaguar estate is … wrong. It’s nothing to do with its relative practicality, or the level of equipment or quality of its cabin, or the pros and cons of the fact that it is basically a Mondeo with a Coventry-built bodyshell (are they still Coventry-built?)

No, sorry, the very idea of a Jaguar estate is an affront to nature. It’s a mouse with an ear growing out of its back, or a LibDem with a ministerial red box. The fact that it is “just … no” shouldn’t require any further explanation because it’s plain to see. So, Clarkson-like, I will dismiss the idea with a snort of derision and move on. Next thing you know, Jag will be making 4×4 “off-roaders”. They should stick to making decent saloons and successors to the most beautiful car ever made, the E-type roadster. They should equally try to avoid making another one of the silliest proportioned cars ever made, the E-type 2+2 (fixed head coupe). What a difference putting on the wrong type of roof can make to a car.

Which brings us back to estates. Without boring you with the ins and outs of our decision making process, we’ve narrowed it down to the Audi, VW or … another Volvo.

Yes, yes, a Conservative accountant driving a Volvo. Go on, laugh – I’ve been driving one for the last 13 years, and my father has had his for the last 35 years. From new. Not that Gothenburg’s former ball bearing company hasn’t had its share of clangers, of course. In the 1970’s they had the horrid Volvo 66 – a re-badged Daf from the time the Dutch firm was swallowed up, which visually owed much to the dear old Triumph Herald – after all, both cars shared the same designer in Michelotti. Earlier, there was the P1800, a decent looker made famous by Roger Moore in The Saint, and made infamous for while by the dodgy job that Jensen did in throwing the things together, before production was moved back to Sweden with the P1800S.

As for the Audi or VW – we can’t help but think that no matter how good the thing looks inside or out (well, maybe the “outside bit” won’t apply to the Passat), and how many toys it might have, we already have the essential car (floorpan, running gear, power unit) in our workhorse Skoda Octavia. For goodness sake, look at the engine – it’s got the VW Audi logos stamped on it!

OK, I’ll get me anorak – it’s the one that smells of petrol….