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?