Thursday, November 30, 2006

More interested in pounds than planet?

Far from the bogeymen eco-extremists make them out to be, car makers are crying out for the government to provide real incentives for people to switch to their greener products.

But rather than enabling people to make an affordable, more environmentally-friendly choice, all allegedly 'green' politicians seem interested in so far is ways to increase taxes and wring more cash out of already financially hard-pressed car users.

Saab MD Jonathan Nash is the latest to appeal for the government to take action to boost the emerging bioethanol fuel industry. Speaking at the launch of Saab's second flex-fuel car – the Saab 9-5 2.3t BioPower – Nash said that CO2 emissions could be cut by as much as 70%. Yet incentives for buyers in the UK were not available.

He has joined Ford, which makes the Focus FFV, Morrisons Supermarkets and the National Farmers Union in asking for the Chancellor to include incentives in his 2007 budget.

Joining the growing chorus pointing out the government's hypocrisy, Nash said, "Upon publication of the Stern Review the British government claimed to be leading the global debate on climate change. Well I don't see much evidence of that.

"What I see is the Swedish government taking progressive measures, such as major tax relief at the pump and for company car drivers, and free parking in Swedish cities to encourage drivers into environmentally friendly cars, instead of penalising them."

Those politicians professing concern about the environment but only proposing ramping up taxes on car use to ridiculous levels can only be trying to pocket more of our pounds rather than save the planet.

A real demonstration of their professed conviction about the dangers facing the planet would be acting on the fact that a far more speedy and effective reduction in carbon emissions could be achieved if they reduced their tax take on environmentally-friendly products to make them more affordable. And not just in transport.

When they show a willingness to do this, then maybe they can expect their lectures about global warming to be taken more seriously.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

London Low Sense Zone

The likely harmful effect on Londoners' health of Livingstone's policy of piling more and more buses onto London's overcrowded streets is admitted in the info on his latest scheme - a London
Low Emission Zone.

Announcing a 'consultation' on the plan, the press release says "A Low Emission Zone scheme would aim to improve London's air quality - and thereby improve Londoners' health - by encouraging operators of large diesel vehicles to clean up their fleets".

Later, Ken himself is quoted as saying "The proposed Low Emission Zone is the most effective way of quickly reducing pollutants that are among the most harmful to human health."

But who's causing all the emissions of diesel pollutants, as Ken says, 'among the most harmful to human health'? Is it really private operators of 'large diesel vehicles'?

A main culprit has to be the 8,000-strong fleet of London buses which travel millions of miles in London - stopping, starting and lingering in densely populated areas - for which Livingstone himself is ultimately responsible. A fleet that has rapidly increased in number since he came into office.

More buses, more emissions

Increasing the frequency of service on bus routes inevitably increases the amount of diesel exhaust in the air. Even using newer buses with cleaner diesels can produce similar total exposures as the old, less frequent service with older engines.

It's also the case that finer particles from newer diesel engines can enter the body much more easily than the coarse particles from older engines, so may actually represent a greater health risk.

But what's Ken's response on seeing that health-threatening diesel pollutants are predictably on the rise as a result of his actions? Launch a study into whether further expansion of bus services is really necessary or worth this cost to human health, and moderate his actions accordingly? Regardless of the health implications, many may see this as a good idea anyway, given the number of buses trundling around these days with next to no-one on board.

But no. In typical Ken style, someone else is getting the blame - and their wallets raided for their 'crimes'.

Just like with ordinary car users and the 'congestion' charge, under the LEZ scheme private operators of larger vehicles are going to find themselves slapped with fines or the costs of changing their vehicles in order to compensate for Ken's unnecessary pollution.

Not taking responsibility

As usual, the most "effective" action to Livingstone is apparently not doing more in areas that are his own responsibility - a massive and increasing source of diesel emissions - but setting up elaborate and expensive schemes to confuse, interfere with and pocket cash from everyone else, delivering large profits to his new corporate 'comrades' like Capita in the process.

Showing at least an awareness of this hypocrisy, lurking at the bottom of the press release is the claim, "Through the fitting of particulate traps, all London buses under contract to Transport for London now meet a minimum of Euro III emission standards for particulate matter."

However, that statement
rather contradicts this BBC article from September, saying that the traps that had been fitted have made harmful bus emissions massively worse, quoting a Mike Weston of London buses saying that the problem won't be corrected for two years yet.

So who's telling the truth?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mayor's lip service to tackling health threatening bus pollution

Also interesting about Livingstone's recent press release announcing the complete transformation of the London congestion charge into an emissions charge scheme, and its £25 daily top rate for many ordinary family cars, is the self-conscious mention in the last paragraph of London's buses.

Diesels may well emit less CO2 than petrol vehicles and this is what blinkered adherents to the global warming theory obsess about at any other cost.

But they are far worse for ground-level pollution, emitting greater quantities of substances like nitrogen oxide and far more particulates that have a direct negative effect on human health, particularly on those already ill or suffering respiratory problems.

Is the global warming theory, or even the human influence on climate change, well proven enough to justify this harmful trade-off? We'd better be sure, as it's undoubtedly costing lives.

In London, buses are the worst culprit of all for such pollution. Now numbering 8,000 - many more since Livingstone became mayor - they travel tens of thousands more miles a year each than any private car, they frequently stop and start, and often stand stationary for extended periods in densely populated places.

They are also a singly managed pollution source - proprietor, one Ken Livingstone.

So what's he doing about his rapidly growing 'fleet' of heavy-use polluters before lecturing families about their cars and hitting them with absurdly high charges for daring to use them?

In the press release he grandly announces that "We are already cleaning up London's fleet of public vehicles through measures like the introduction of Hybrid buses". Really? So how many of London's 8,000 buses are currently hybrids? Well, according to an earlier press release, a grand total of six.

Sorry, but such paltry efforts are no excuse for continuing to hammer car users as the big culprits for harmful emissions. Far greater progress must be made to tackle the massive source of visible ground-level pollution under Livingstone's control that is these 8,000 buses, before ramping up the costs for ordinary family car users to extraordinary levels like £25 a day can possibly be justified on 'green' grounds.

Has Livingstone now become so obsessed with meddling in other people's lives to get the responsibilities of his own job in order? The evidence is certainly mounting.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Livingstone writes off family vote with £25 'congestion' tax plan

Not content with offending both London's
gay and Jewish communities, along with being accused of making other racist jibes, Ken Livingstone now intends to finally dispense with the vote of London's family car users.

Today he formally announced his plan to
treble the London congestion charge to £25 for cars in tax band G - those emitting more than 225g/km of CO2. He'll also be ditching the 90% resident's discount for users of these cars, meaning that if any moves their car past one of the cameras within the charging times they will be hit with the full £25 tax.

The charge is expected to be possible from 2009, but Livingstone apparently wants to start it earlier.

Another 'green' tax misdirected

But far from targetting the 'wealthy', owners of large and expensive cars, or the oft-mentioned '4x4s', this extreme charge plan will in reality hit many owners of ordinary small to mid-size family cars and, particularly, people carriers.

Even some models of the following very average cars with certain engine sizes - just two litres in some cases, especially if automatic - will be hit by these extreme charges: the Audi A3 hatchback & A4 saloon, BMW 3-series upwards, Citroen C8 MPV, Kia Sedona MPV, Lexus IS small saloon, Mercedes's C-class smallest saloon model upwards, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna & Espace, Seat Alhambra MPV, Toyota Previa MPV, Vauxhall Zafira MPV, Volkswagen Sharan MPV, Volvo V70 estate and others. The SMMT have produced a more precise list of examples.

So contrary to the media hype about 4x4s, this new congestion charge is actually more of an attack on family cars and MPVs.

New £25 charge hits families hardest

This of course makes a complete mockery of Livingstone's claim that "Most vehicles that will be charged £25, in vehicle excise duty band G, are high-priced models."

And it's hard to see why this warrants the glee of the London Green Party in calling this excessive financial persecution of families "fantastic news" or of Richmond Council (of 'green' parking permit con fame) in calling it "tremendous news". What planet are these people on - and who votes them in?

Worst of the bunch, This is London reports, has to be some non-entity called Geoff Pope - apparently Liberal Democrat (surprise, surprise!) chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee. He proudly displayed his ignorance by saying, "Urgent action is needed to tackle the growing number of 'Chelsea tractors' coming into central London. They are damaging and unnecessary vehicles in a densely urbanised 21st century city."

Why, Mr Pope? When most are no bigger (except in height - is that terribly 'overcrowding'?) and no more polluting than many average family cars?

Is it too much to expect the chairman of the Transport Committee to scrutinise a car magazine and get the facts about sizes and performance of 4x4s relative to other cars? If he can't manage even that, who knows what other damage he's doing in his position. The man should be removed from his post for gross incompetence.

It was left to the National Alliance Against Tolls to make a sensible and practical point in the BBC report, in saying, "Band G cars will pay more from 2009, but that band only relates to cars registered after 23 March 2006, so it could have a perverse effect by encouraging the use of older vehicles."

Congestion charge or local car tax?

This latest move also signalled a conversion of the charging scheme away from focussing on congestion into more of an additional London car tax operating on similar emissions-based lines to the national car tax system. Is this what Livingstone was elected to impose on London?

In targetting people-carriers worst of all, this £25 charge plan is likely to actually make congestion worse.

Take school runs in the congestion charge zone. The school run is a major factor in road over-crowding, its absence at holiday times having a noticeable effect on how busy roads are.

Instead of those with larger cars like MPVs being able to do a school run for several families and take up to six kids to school, they will likely have to ditch their MPV to avoid the extreme charge and use a car with far less space. So more than likely multiple extra cars will be on the road doing the school run, to ferry the same number of kids.

More cars on the road

And if the scheme is 'successful' (on its own terms) in encouraging people to take advantage of the proposed zero charge for tiny or hybrid cars, then free access to central London roads would surely make them busier.

So it's hard to see what this new 'emissions-based' congestion charge will have to do with congestion at all. It clearly needs a new name too.

The widespread oppressive effect of this plan will be compounded by the westwards extension of the 'congestion' charge zone from February next year, targetting thousands more families with the extreme £25 charge.

We're supposedly reassured that this planned change is all 'subject to consultation'. That's of course what was said about the plan to extend the original charge zone. More than 80% of businesses and 70% of residents spoke out against the extension in that 'consultation', yet Livingstone is doing it anyway.

That's democracy in Livingstone-land. Ignoring the clearly expressed views of the people and imposing his ill-considered and un-wanted schemes regardless. No wonder he's such a fan of Cuba.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The BIG question

Two contributions to the debate on climate change on last week's edition of BBC1's Question Time deserve to be recorded in print.

First Peter Hitchens, who courageously read the riot act to the QT audience and left them reeling when they dared to groan at his questioning of the cosy climate change 'consensus'. He said:

"There is as yet no firm knowledge among scientists - no agreement among scientists - as to whether global warming is connected with human activity... (audience groans)

"...I'm is...I've stated a simple fact. Scientists disagree about this. And if you can't accept it, and if you howl about it, you're in the grips of some kind of religious mania. There is no proof. It doesn't exist.

"There is an argument among scientists, and those scientists who object to the idea that there may be a connection between global warming and human activity are actually persecuted by other scientists, and subjected to inquisitions, such as Bjorn Lomborg. And it is very difficult for them to do so and their courage is to be applauded.

"But to moan and groan when somebody says something unfashionable is just to use the mentality of the herd of sheep. It is the case that we do not know.

"And we are being.... Just as Charles Clarke here tries to panic you, or tried when he was in office, to panic you into abandoning centuries of English liberty on the grounds of a terrorist bogey, the climate change people want to panic you into handing over large amounts of your money on the grounds of a climate change bogey.

"Be very, very wary of it. Be sceptical. Think about it. Don't accept what you're being told simply because somebody says 'I know'."

And a bit later...

"All that you will do if you try and restrict industry here on the Kyoto basis and on heavy taxation is you will transfer more industry to China and India and impoverish the West.

"If that's what you wish to achieve, great. But it doesn't seem to be - on the basis of an argument which is by no means resolved, is very complicated, and which most people think they know about and don't - it doesn't seem to me to be very wise to embark on a huge economic revolution on the basis of an undecided argument in science."

Second, notable in contrast only for its blatant hypocrisy, Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell said: "There is no need to increase the overall tax take".

Really Ming? What's this all about then?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Honda hits back against anti-4x4 lobby

Car makers are starting to fight their corner against the irrational victimisation of 4x4s and their drivers being encouraged by a small minority of anti-capitalists masquerading as 'green' campaigners.

In the first case of a car maker communicating with their customers on the 4x4 debate, Honda have revealed that they will be sending a special campaign pack to all owners of their new CR-V (pictured).

The pack will demolish some of the key complaints of the anti-4x4 lobby and provide a special window sticker for them to display, promoting the message that 'Not all 4x4s are the same'.

Tallying strongly with earlier postings on this blog (What's Ken's real problem with 4x4s?), the campaign pack hits the 4x4-obsessives with some killer facts:

Too dirty?
The new Honda CR-V is not only cleaner than other SUVs - its exhaust emissions are lower than some large estates, hatchbacks, MPVs and even a Mini Cooper S!

Too big?
The CR-V has a footprint that's a similar size to a Ford Mondeo (and smaller than a BMW 523iE).

Too dangerous?
The current CR-V achieves a 3-star rating for pedestrian safety - which, according to industry experts Euro NCAP, puts it in the top 10 per cent of pedestrian-friendly cars on the road. Also, the current model gets 4-stars for occupant safety.

Commenting on the new campaign, John Kingston, Environment Manager at Honda UK, said "The 'one size fits all' approach of Anti 4x4 protesters is confusing. Some customers have expressed their concerns and frustration about being criticised for driving a CR-V - no surprise when you consider this Honda is incredibly clean, not a gas-guzzler, smaller than most 4x4s and is remarkably safe for both passengers and pedestrians."

Now all that's needed is for the mainstream media to wake up to the facts on this issue and to stop mindlessly repeating the baseless rhetoric of the anti-4x4 brigade.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Green car industry leads the way

It's never mentioned in the gloom and doom stories about the environment, and eagerness to blame cars and their users for the alleged looming climate problems, but Britain's car industry is in fact leading the way in making their manufacturing activities and products kinder to the environment.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Report on the 2005 Market, the average new car sold in 2005 emits 10.7% less CO2 than one registered in 1997. What's more, the percentage of new cars with CO2 emissions of under 140 g/km has risen to 18%, up from 3.9% in 1997.

Over half the new car market is now under the 160 g/km CO2 level, having fallen by more than 20 g/km per new vehicle since 1997. And despite a 15% increase in the total cars on the road since that year, total emissions from cars has fallen by 1%.

Those really concerned with improving our environment - as opposed to those who merely use it as an excuse to demand higher taxes or have a pop at the 'wealthy' - will be delighted to learn that improvements at Britain's car manufacturing sites have been even more significant.

Another SMMT study, Motorfacts 2006, reveals that energy used to produce each vehicle in the UK has been almost halved in just four years and, even better, the waste per vehicle produced sent to landfill has been cut by more than 70%.

Specific projects also show how hard car-makers are working to reduce their impact on the environment. As noted in a previous posting on expansion of the UK car industry, Ford is investing
£1 billion in developing new fuel-saving engines and systems at their UK technical centres, towards creating cars capable of 70mpg and emitting less than 100 g/km of CO2.

Last month, Auto Express reported that Toyota is joining in by switching the transport of raw materials to its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire from lorries to trains. And since last year Nissan's plant in Sunderland has been generating 5% of its energy needs with
wind power. Though the six 200ft turbines installed at a cost of
£2.3 million were reduced to five in December last year when one
burst into flames and its 75ft blades dropped off.

So rather than victimise the car industry and make extreme tax proposals that would likely harm a significant British industry and put thousands of people out of a job, those concerned about the environment and climate change should be offering congratulations and encouragement for this clear progress.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"It is not in doubt that if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous."
Tony Blair, speech at the publication of the Stern Review on climate change,
30 October 2006

'If' the science is right, Tony? IF? So there's still, erm, doubt?

Blair claims that the scientific evidence for global warming 'caused' by greenhouse gas emissions is 'overwhelming'. But clearly not overwhelming enough to prevent him hedging his bets and putting that 'if' in his speech.

With doubt over the scientific evidence for the human effect on global warming still evident at the top of government, it would obviously be totally unacceptable for the government to now try slapping extra, highly repressive taxes on people using the excuse of that evidence.

Such a move could now only be seen as driven by one agenda - using global warming as an excuse to simply increase the government's tax income.

You could say - IF the Stern Review was supposed to provide the justification for hitting people with higher taxes in the name of combating global warming, Blair's comments have put paid to that.

Monday, October 30, 2006

First, propaganda -
next, pay day?

Nothing illustrates better where the environment hysteria agenda has been heading than the framing of today's question on BBC Radio 1's lunchtime news programme Newsbeat.

Listeners were being encouraged to text and e-mail what they thought on the question, Would you pay more taxes to save the environment?

There's nothing the government and largely hard-left environment hysteria lobby would like more than for people to start to believe that all they need to do is shell out still more of their hard-earned cash to politicians and everything will be alright with the planet.

Apparently, it's simple: tax equals saving the planet, no tax means global catastrophe. Such is the dichotomy that, with pound-signs in their eyes, it could be suspected that the hysteria lobby have long been working to establish.

Rather than focussing on and encouraging changes of behaviour people can make at little cost, the 'green' agenda has always been peppered with the idea that we need to be properly punished for our polluting, modern ways - that our lifestyles are 'unsustainable', and we'd better get used to going without the things we need, and without doing the things we enjoy.

There's always been this certain masochism to the green lobby - a gleeful seizing on a supposed reason to return to simpler times of previous centuries - coupled with a bizarre, burning need to inflict it on everyone else.

And now, after the years of 'looming disaster' propaganda, we're reaching the crunch point. Fingers firmly crossed, hoping the years of propaganda have worked their magic, the politicians are finally gearing up to claim another big chunk of the little hard-earned cash we have left for ourselves after the other chunks they take.

Thankfully, looking at responses to that question on the Radio 1 link above, most people are a long way from succumbing to this ploy.

Pounds, not planet

So how do we know the global warming hysteria is really about revenue-raising rather than saving the planet? Take the rather critical fact that energy use in homes and businesses is by a long way the biggest cause of carbon emissions, and that far greater efforts to encourage energy conservation would therefore make a much bigger dent in Britain's total emissions. Surely those really interested in affecting the environment for the better would be obsessing about energy conservation? You'd have thought.

But no. The first choice for national and local politicians is always to set about finding ways to ramp up taxes on individuals which, even by deliberate design (see
Richmond's 'green' parking permit con & Lib Dem car tax trap postings), have the greatest impact not on the wealthy but hard-pressed families trying to keep up with the many existing financial demands of modern life.

Punish or encourage?

Why is it that punishment, rather than encouragement, is always the first choice for politicians? For example, rather than planning to charge us still more for the necessity of a car, for imagining we might take a holiday or for daring to throw out some rubbish, the government could abolish VAT on energy-saving light bulbs, on solar panels, on wind turbines, on roof insulation, on getting gas boilers maintained regularly, on double-glazing. These improvements would become more affordable and all would have a significant impact in the area of the biggest cause of carbon emissions.

If the politicians really must 'do' something in the area of road transport, they could scrap the duty on biodiesel. Or, more practical still, the government could cut its massive tax take on the price of new, more efficient fuels like the one that BP has recently developed - BP Ultimate.

BP claim that if every car used that instead of ordinary unleaded, the effect on emissions would be the same as taking 1 million cars off the road. That's equivalent to taking all cars out of a city the size of Newcastle!

So why don't many drivers use this fuel? Because BP Ultimate costs a lot more than normal unleaded. It wouldn't, though, if the government gave up a small part of their 70% fuel tax grab to bring the price down to on a par with the regular fuel.

If they did that, of course car users would choose the more efficient, environmentally-friendly option and the benefit to the planet would be both instant and massive.

Certainly there is something very wrong with politicians planning to slap more taxes on people yet taxing better fuels like this to the hilt so few can afford to help the environment even if they wanted to.

Money where the mouth is

If that's not enough, here's another idea. If global warming is really a bigger threat than terrorism, as the green lobby regularly claim, then why doesn't the government spend the billions of pounds ear-marked for their highly controversial ID cards plan on developing alternative energy sources, like harnessing tide power, building off-shore wind farms, or installing solar panels on public buildings?

Politicians simply can't expect us to treat saving the planet as a priority and pay through the nose for it if they don't exhibit the same attitude themselves.

So is it any surprise that some suggest politicians aren't so interested in changing things to help the planet as grabbing yet more money off us?

Environment needs new approach

The door is wide open for a political party to spearhead a positive, pragmatic, reasonable and creative environmentalism, utilising market forces and encouraging people with benefits for pro-environment choices. Rather than attempting to bludgeon us with the lazy, blunt instrument of higher taxes.

So... Gordie, Dave, Ming? Who's it going to be? Whoever, you'd better make it quick.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Richmond's 'green' parking permit con

Richmond upon Thames in south west London has seen the latest outbreak in efforts to ramp up taxes on the already over-burdened car user citing global warming.

Despite the fact that energy use in homes and businesses is by far the biggest reason for Britain's carbon emissions - and encouraging energy conservation therefore likely to make a far more productive contribution to reducing total emissions - Richmond council has joined the ranks of unimaginative politicians and unjustifiably decided to pick on the car user yet again.

That this idea comes from Richmond council is no surprise when we discover it is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. This is the party that signalled its intention to excessively victimise car users in an absurd
car tax policy proposed at their recent conference.

Charges hit more than 'wealthy'

There are so many disturbing features about this latest proposal that it's hard to know where to begin.

First let's deal with the idea that this is a plan to 'make the wealthy pay more' for choosing big, polluting cars. In fact, its implications go far wider. Even best-selling small city cars like the Mini, Ford Fiesta and Nissan Micra are in the
Band D set to be hit with a 10% increase in permit charges. That's an increase four times the rate of inflation.

Looking at the next band up, with permits due to cost 30% more under the new regime, even very average family cars like the 1.8 litre Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra appear.

So what exactly do Richmond council expect people to use in order to avoid these excessively increased charges? Or could the intention possibly be just to get their hands on more of people's hard-earned cash and global warming is just a handy excuse?

Because this plan, as it stands, will quite obviously hit not just the wealthy or owners of large cars, but the far larger number trying to get by on average incomes using a wide range of very normal, average cars.

Complicating factors

There are also several complicating factors. For example, the purchase price of all new Land Rovers - the dreaded 'polluting 4x4s' we hear so many complaints about - will from next year include the cost of off-setting three years worth of their carbon emissions.

So, actually, a brand new Land Rover is carbon neutral for its first 45,000 miles and so far better for the environment in that period than any other car. But is Richmond going to inspect the mileages of new Land Rovers and exempt all those showing under 45,000 from their new resident permit charges? They would, if they were really interested in promoting pro-environment action.

What's more, there is some debate about the real fuel economy under everyday conditions of the Toyota Prius, the only car in the council's proposed 50% reduction
Band B which isn't too small to be suitable for average family use.

Even if this plan were to be focussed only on larger cars, let's be clear. Owners of 'gas guzzling' cars already pay much more for their choice, by definition. The more fuel a car uses, the more fuel tax is paid. And let's not forget, the government's share of the price of a litre of fuel is more than 70%. Car tax is also now graduated by emissions, meaning they also pay more for that too - far more than is ever spent on maintaining roads.

These are already massive 'green' taxes car users are paying, and have long been paying - the owners of 'gas guzzling' cars more than any. Yet is this massive existing government income already being used to help 'save' the environment? Hardly.

Council hypocrisy

But beyond the transparant real agenda of this plan, it's the blatant hypocrisy of Richmond council that's most galling. They're proposing to hammer thousands of middle income local car users over the cost of parking a car outside their own house (on which they presumably already pay a large slice of Council Tax) spouting solemn lectures about the threat of global warming while, according to the Times report on the proposal, not only maintaining car parking facilities for their own staff but even offering them subsidies.

If the threat of global warming were truly as urgent and action as necessary as they claim, then getting their own house in order is surely a pre-requisite of preaching to others - certainly of being taken seriously and avoiding a backlash come the next election.

It's very hard to avoid the conclusion that this plan is motivated not so much by concern for the environment as, yet again, by a desire to raise revenue from the already over-paying car user, hoping they won't complain if the plan is dressed up in a green banner.

Richmond Council is currently consulting on their plans and wants feedback. You can comment

Sunday, September 24, 2006

British car industry expands

While bad news for the British car industry like the closure of MG Rover and Peugeot ending its UK manufacturing tends to get splashed across the newspapers, positive developments rarely make it further than the specialist car media. A false image of the state of the industry results which, here at Pro-Car, we'll be doing our best to set straight.

The start of production of the new generation Mini at Cowley this week is one such example and is in fact just the latest piece of recent good news about the British car industry.

Like many other major British car brands, nowadays Mini is ultimately owned by a foreign firm - BMW. But the German company operates three manufacturing plants in Britain which directly and indirectly provide jobs for thousands of people. The decision to continue Mini production at their Cowley plant means an extra £200 million investment in British manufacturing and jobs for 450 more people. And with more parts for this new Mini being made in Britain, a further 750 new jobs are being created at supplier companies. Since its launch the Mini has been a huge success story, with 75% of the Oxfordshire-assembled cars being exported worldwide.

There was also good news recently from Ford, whose two British engine plants at Bridgend and Dagenham started production of new V8 diesel and V6 petrol engines. Together the plants will produce almost 1.3 million engines this year to power a range of Ford, Mazda, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar and even Peugeot and Citroen cars.

Ford invests in the environment

In addition to the £640 million Ford invested in Dagenham three years ago and £245 million the company has put into Bridgend in the last two years, Ford also recently announced a £1 billion investment in their British technical centres at Dunton, Whitley and Gaydon. The centres will aim to develop lightweight technologies, hybrid engines and alternative fuel systems towards creating cars capable of 70mpg and emitting less than 100 g/km of CO2.

Environmentalists will be pleased to hear that when the new technologies are applied across their family of car brands, Ford claim the annual CO2 savings will be the same as the annual emissions of a city like Newcastle upon Tyne.

New sports car to be built in Wales

It was also announced in July that a British company has bought the rights to the soon to be discontinued Smart Roadster and plans to restart production of a re-named car based on it. Equipment is set to be transferred to a facility in Wales from Smart's German factory, ready for production of over 8,000 cars a year starting mid-2007.

The North East also received some good news as Nissan unveiled a new model to be built at their award-winning Sunderland factory - Britain's largest car plant. The unusually-named Qashqai will go on sale early next year, and 25,000 every year are even set to be exported back to Japan. 200 new jobs have already been created, taking the total employed there to 4,300. The plant also makes the firm's Almera, Note and Micra models.

Happy Birthday Honda UK

And finally, this year Honda is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its UK factory in Swindon. The plant employs over 4,000 people and builds the five-door Civic and the CR-V models. By next year it will also start production of the range-topping Civic Type R. Honda has invested £1.3 billion in the facility, which is now making 885 cars a day - 75% of which are exported.

Threats posed by anti-car policies

This first post on the British car industry has been a bit of a round-up - we'll post news as it happens from now on. But it provides a useful demonstration, even taking only recent developments, of the potential threat posed to tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of earnings and investment in this country by those working to create a hostile environment for cars and their users.

Massively ramping up the costs of using cars blaming theories about the human influence on climate change not only has a directly repressive effect on the large numbers people who have no option but to use a car. It also threatens the viability of all these large successful businesses. Journalists, politicians and campaigners who mindlessly repeat unscientific enviro-propaganda need to spend more time explaining the devastating effect their resulting anti-car policies are likely to have on a major British manufacturing industry and related jobs.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lib Dem car tax trap

At their conference this week the Lib Dems achieved an impressive double whammy. They revealed a policy to change the car tax system that's flawed in both principle and practice.

First, they claimed the principle of their policy was to make taxes more 'green', presumably meaning they want to use the tax system to discourage what they see as a climate-changing activity like car use. I say 'presumably', because they actually chose as a target the one motoring cost that doesn't vary whether you use your car once a year or all day every day.

Second, in practice, the policy is apparently intended to discourage people from buying the least fuel-efficient and worst polluting cars. But this fell apart when policy-makers employed some usual enviro-blockhead thinking and clearly only assumed that targetting cars based on emissions would result in them punishing drivers of large cars and therefore the wealthy.

Environmentalists or anti-capitalists?

When will it sink in for these people that a car's emissions output has much more to do with the nature of its engine than its external dimensions. That large cars - and certainly not 4x4s, which are only taller than most average family saloons - are not necessarily the worst polluting.

Of course, some so-called environmentalists refuse to see this reality because their only motivation for their anti-car crusade is that they think it provides an opportunity to have a go at the wealthy. A vocal minority masquerading under green banners is clearly not so much pro-environment as anti-enterprise and its conspicuous benefits.

Even the environmentalist movement should be concerned about this vocal 'red' green lunatic fringe, as their unscientific extremism as exemplified by irrational anti-4x4 campaigns only damages the credibility of those trying to make a case for more pragmatic action to improve our environment.

Will realisation dawn?

Perhaps realisation that they have succumbed to the rhetoric of the lunatic fringe will now dawn as the Lib Dems have tried to turn the unscientific enviro-nut outlook into an actual policy, and it's predictably revealed that far more than only drivers of large cars or 4x4s will be hit by their plans.

Their 'Fairer, Simpler, Greener' tax policy paper shows on page 28 that they actually propose not just the much-hyped £2,000 charge in the top tax Band for the worst polluting cars, but also to massively ramp up car tax for cars emitting more than 165 g/km of CO2 - that's those also in current Bands E and F. Here they want to increase the tax from £150 to £850 for Band E, and from £190 to an astonishing £1500 for Band F.

What do the Lib Dems expect us to drive?

To be fair, some mainstream media outlets like The Times have pointed out - but only in passing - that the real effect of the Lib Dem policy would be to punish the drivers of even average size family cars like the Ford Mondeo.

But it's even worse than that. No doubt Lib Dem members will be dismayed that even some Mini models - surely one of the ultimate city cars - are in Band E and buyers would be hit with the £850 annual punishment. As would buyers of Audi's smallest model - the A3 - even in basic 1.6 litre guise, some models in BMW's smallest range - the
1 series - and large swathes of models across the small to mid-size ranges from many major car-makers.

I mean - what exactly do the Lib Dems expect us to drive? Far from an extra tax on the oft-cited 'wealthy' or from discouraging people from buying 'gas guzzlers', this policy will clearly slam many hundreds of thousands of middle income people wishing to drive normal small and family cars like these.

Tens of thousands out of a job

What's more, many of the luxury and sports car manufacturers who make their products in this country such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and TVR would face a severe threat to their businesses and so the jobs of tens of thousands of people they and their suppliers employ through such excessively punitive charges being slapped on the use of their products. Car dealerships will also go bust as rather than buy new cars with punitive tax rates, people will hang on to their old cars for much longer.

What do the Lib Dems have to say about this likely effect of their new policy to the people whose livelihoods depend on Britain's car industry? Ask them.

A quick glance at the car stats in the back of just one of the car magazines found on any newsagents' shelves would have revealed the true repressive effects of this ridiculous policy and killed it stone dead. Clearly such basic fact-checking was expecting too much from the Lib Dems. Will the embarrassment they're now suffering as a result lead to better research and better policies in future?

Friday, August 25, 2006

What's Ken's Real Problem with 4x4s?

London mayor Ken Livingstone recently revealed his sympathies with an on-going, badly misinformed campaign against so-called 'Chelsea tractors'.

Last month it was reported in
The Times that, in response to the demands of a collection of groups strangely obsessed with 'urban 4x4s', Livingstone now plans to hit these cars with an increased London congestion charge of £25 - a massive hike of more than 200% over the standard £8 charge.

If some of the hyperbole of these anti-4x4 groups is to be believed, Britain is apparently being "taken over" by "giant" four wheel drive cars. The leading anti group says that it aims to "make driving a big 4x4 in town as socially unacceptable as drink-driving" and, even more irrationally, wishes to "see an end to 4x4 adverts in the mainstream media".

Several criticisms are being regularly thrown at 4x4s and their owners as a result of this campaign. Yet even to a casual observer capable of simply opening one of the many car magazines found on newagents' shelves, none stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

So how on earth is London's mayor now taking them so seriously, to consider slapping such disproportionate charges on drivers of these cars?

Reality: size of 4x4s

The most commonly cited protest concerns the size of these cars - that 'selfish' 4x4 owners are 'taking up more space with their big cars than they need in an overcrowded city'.

For Livingstone at least, as a mayor who is driving double-deckers off the road to make way for 'bendy buses' occupying twice the road-space, the need to prevent larger vehicles clogging London's roads can hardly be top of his concerns.

Yet how much are these protests about size caused by an overly simplistic response to the style and appearance of 4x4s, rather than their actual dimensions?

It seems a great deal, because the reality is that 4x4s are actually often shorter than everyday 'urban' family saloon cars that nobody complains about. For example, a BMW X5 at 467cm is significantly shorter than the company's mid-range 5-series saloon at 484cm. Similary VW's 4x4 Touareg is shorter than the Passat.

Not only that, but 4x4s also tend to be only marginally wider than mid-range saloons. Using the BMW example above, the X5 is a mere 3cm wider than the 5-series. Even a Land Rover Discovery - arch-nemesis of the anti 4x4 brigade - is only 10cm wider than a Ford Mondeo.

Can a mere 10cm really be the reason for all the fuss and special attention 4x4s are subjected to? Would these groups fall silent if 4x4s were that small amount narrower? Seems unlikely.

There's no doubt that 4x4s are significantly taller than other cars, but so what? Is it terribly selfish and over-crowding to take up more height than a standard car?

Reality: fuel efficiency

So if there's no basis to complaints about the size of 4x4s, it must surely be their fuel economy that's causing the angst. 'Gas guzzling' is another shrill term now so thoughtlessly prefixed to the term '4x4s' whenever they're discussed.

But that can't be the problem either. A quick look at the economy data in the back of most car magazines shows that some 4x4s are actually more economical that many smaller cars. For example, all of the current Land Rover Freelander range in doing an average 37 miles per gallon do better than even some Mini models.

So it clearly also completely defies logic to label a car a 'gas guzzler' merely because of its size or appearance.

Reality: 4x4s and emissions

Ah, but is it their emissions? We all want to see reduced pollution and a better living environment.
But what exactly is Livingstone aiming at in intending to impose restrictive costs on 4x4 owners?

If it's tackling global warming, then reducing the CO2 emissions spread by less efficient petrol cars - whatever their appearance - is at least an understandable goal. For someone who believes the theory that humans are affecting climate change, that is.

However, Livingstone actually tries to justify his planned attack on 4x4 owners by talking of 'improving London's air quality'. If this is his goal, then the solution is different. It's not petrol engines and CO2 that are the culprit but diesels and their far more harmful NOx and particles emissions that directly harm ground level air quality the worst.

So instead of picking on a class of vehicle based only on its appearance and number of driven wheels, surely a more sensible course of action would be a study into whether what must be by far the biggest singly-managed source of diesel emissions - the 6,800 buses Livingstone is ultimately responsible for - are really all necessary. Especially given they are likely to travel four times more miles a year spewing their emissions than any average private car.

Since Livingstone became mayor, the number of buses on the road has increased rapidly. Oxford Street is now frequently nose-to-tail buses, emitting NOx and particulates into the lungs of thousands of shoppers.

How many buses are regularly seen almost, if not completely, empty? Certainly every single one of them is constantly stopping, accelerating again from standstill and standing stationary for extended periods in busy shopping centres with many people to breathe in the fumes nearby.

Of course, I'd be the first to agree that all reasonable steps should be taken to reduce harmful emissions from any source.

But to irrationally and disproportionately persecute a small number of Londoners for their car choice while simultaneously jamming ever more buses onto London's roads to travel hundreds of thousands more miles and spew more health-threatening pollution into the air we all have to breathe than any 4x4 is likely to is quite obviously ridiculous behaviour.

Conclusion: Ken's real problem

So if it can't be the size of 4x4s, or that they supposedly guzzle fuel, or even that they're a major culprit for poor air quality in London harming human health, what could it possibly be that 'Red' Ken finds so objectionable about these conspicuously larger cars - these cars most often owned by London's wealthier inhabitants?

The only explanation that makes any sense is that the anti-4x4 agenda is nothing more than a remnant of lame, outdated class warfare, with which Livingstone used to be so closely associated.

Surely it's about time someone with the ear of Mr Livingstone bought a car magazine, pointed out a few facts, and advised his boss to stop embarrassing himself by supporting such an either simply illogical, or lamentably outdated, campaign.

This sort of mindset may be expected from a small rump of anti-capitalist fanatics trying to dress up their outdated ideas in 'green' banners in a last ditch attempt to attract some interest.

But surely the last thing our leading 21st century capital city needs is its mayor hitching himself to such unjustified and outdated dogma. Modern London deserves better.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I've had a Basil Fawlty moment.

No, I don't mean the moment when he decides to give his car a 'damn good thrashing'. Think more the explosive result of his having been hen-pecked once too often by Cybil.

For me, a car user hen-pecked once too often by politicians, this is the result. Welcome to the Pro-Car Blog.

Criticism of the car, and the continued ratcheting up of financial punishments for those who use them, is reaching intolerable levels. Yet the arguments made to justify such increasingly unreasonable and extreme attacks on the motorist defy common sense.

Politicians seem to think drivers are all self-indulgently using their cars just for the fun of it or because we can afford to as a luxury, when we could be choosing to be more environmentally 'responsible'.

The reality is that, in most cases, there is simply no alternative to using a car to do all the tasks that must be done, and carry all their associated paraphanalia; take the kids to school, go to work, collect the kids again, take them to after school clubs or on visits to friends, do the family shop at the supermarket, and so on.

For the millions for whom this is a familiar daily routine, the idea that public transport is an option is quite simply ridiculous.

Similarly, commercial car users needing to visit a number of clients, or potential clients, in a day - numbers on which their income and family prosperity directly depend - simply cannot afford to spend long periods on stop-start public transport that still leaves them a long way from where they need to be.

Yet all are hit with ever higher costs for the essential of a car. Politicians expect those who have no choice to pay for the 'privilege' of using a car over and over again through an ever-increasing array of taxes, charges, fees, tolls and fines. Motorists already pay tens of billions of pounds more to the Treasury than are spent on maintaining road transport infrastructure.

Every new or increased tax is daubed in green and we're solemny lectured about the horrors of global warming, when the case that reducing car use can in any way alter climate change is flimsy at best and the fact that many drivers don't have any real alternative whether they wanted to reduce their car use or not is ignored.

In this dire situation, who is speaking out necessarily strongly for the car and its users? Several small, under-funded organisations are doing tremendous work with the limited resources they have available: the Association of British Drivers and SafeSpeed, to name but two. A number of motoring journalists like Mike Rutherford (Auto Express) and 'Honest John' (Daily Telegraph) also persistently work to right the information imbalance in their national media columns.

But where are the organisations with massive resources like the AA and RAC, whose primary interest used to be to defend the interests of the motorist? Have they today become far too absorbed in providing profitable commercial services and obsessed with being 'listened to', though largely ignored, in the corridors of power to really stand up for motorists? We'll look in more detail at those two organisations in later postings.

So in this context, this blog has two purposes. Primarily, to expose the flimsy arguments of those who see car users as a soft target, imagining the environment to be some kind of trump card able to justify any financial battering they may wish to administer, while no thought is given to the essential practical role cars fulfil in most peoples' lives or their importance to the economy and the prosperity they bring us all, not just car users.

We'll also be promoting, and spreading good news about, the British car industry. Contrary to the focus of the misery-mongers in the mainstream media (MSM), whose only interest is ever bad news, Britain has a vibrant, innovative and successful car industry. If the MSM aren't interested, this is where you can expect to find news of that ongoing success story.

So I hope you'll find the Pro-Car Blog an interesting and useful read.