A campaign has been launched by The Sun newspaper to help millions of motorists in the UK claim compensation after being ‘seduced’ into buying diesel cars, but now face big fines as a result.
The crusade, which is backed by the RAC, the AA and the Road Haulage Association has called for a scrappage scheme to be introduced to help almost 11 million car owners who have bought diesel vehicles since 2001, to avoid a charge that some cities are considering to introduce.
When Gordon Brown was Chancellor, he increased excise duty for petrol cars with higher carbon dioxide emissions, which made diesel cars a bargain in comparison. After that, the number of diesel car owners in the UK soared from 1.6 million to 11 million in the space of a decade. However, some cities are now considering charging motorists extra for driving their diesel cars in city centres and London motorists might have to pay an additional £10 per day on top of the congestion charge, because of other emissions which have been linked to the fuel.
An action to add a diesel-levy on the congestion charge was revealed by London Mayor Boris Johnson after Britain failed to meet its air quality targets, which had been set by the European Union. This could affect around 460,000 lorries, 3.3 million van owners and 10 million car drivers who can expect to see road charge hikes unless they buy a newer “Euro Six” diesel vehicle. Drivers who own vehicles that fail to comply could also face lower re-sale values.
The Sun is calling on the Government to offer compensation to motorists that bought a diesel vehicle by introducing a scrappage-style scheme, which is aimed specifically at these cars. The newspaper suggests that motorists should be offered £2,000 towards the cost of a new vehicle that can meet the environmental standards, so they will not face fines in the future. A number of motoring groups have backed the idea, which would be similar to the 2009 scrappage scheme that was launched to help boost the ailing car industry. RAC technical director David Bizley said
“There’s a lot of merit in a scrappage scheme for older diesel vehicles. It could follow the previous one that offered £2,000 off the price of a new vehicle to drivers of diesel cars more than ten years old. But the Government also need to be able to say how they can help drivers who have recently bought diesel.”
Whilst AA president Edmund King said, “Scrappage was incredibly successful for cars and quite revenue-neutral due to its effect on the new car industry. A scrappage scheme could also target the gross polluters.” Road Haulage policy director Jack Semple said: “If the emission standards are not delivering, that’s not the fault of the Mayor of London. It’s Brussels that set the route map so, if that’s taking us to the wrong place it’s not the right approach to fine people. There’s a lot of merit in a scrappage scheme, certainly for more heavily-polluting HGVs.”
The original car scrappage scheme, which saw almost 400,000 cars being bought, was introduced during the 2009 budget to help the economy, but also the environment. The Government of the time agreed to provide £1,000 towards the purchase of a new car from participating dealers, whilst manufacturers also knocked £1,000 off the list price. However, some experts in the motor industry believe the approach by The Sun is over the top and criticised the newspaper for branding successive governments as “diesel weasels” on its front page.
Those critical of The Sun argue that diesel drivers probably won’t face fines, as it could make this type of car uneconomical to buy over petrol motors. For the foreseeable future they predict that compression ignition engines will remain as first choice for drivers who cover the most miles and want to slash their motoring bills. There is no debate that London and other UK cities face a problem when it comes to localised emissions, which regularly break EU limits. Diesel engines emit oxides of nitrogen that have been linked to respiration problems, which is not pleasant or safe for pedestrians and cyclists.
It is true that motorists have bought more diesel cars via CO2-based taxes that were meant to reward them for their prudent nature, but it didn’t take in to account the more localised pollutions. Last year, nearly 1.1 million new cars were sold and almost 50 percent of these were diesel, compared with only 16 percent in 1997 according to figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
For more than a decade company car drivers have been taxed on their cars’ CO2 emissions and they buy far more diesels; by 2011 two thirds of all fleet cars were diesel in comparison to just over a third of new private cars. When we see fleets buying about half of all the new cars being sold, it is a clear indication that the taxation has had a huge impact. It would be wrong to say the government has ignored emissions penalties for diesels, because if you order a diesel as a company car, you have to pay 3% more tax than if you chose a petrol vehicle with the same CO2 output.
In the build up to the Euro 5 emissions standards in 2005/6, company car drivers were able to waive that surcharge if they chose the cleaner option car and by 2016, diesel company car drivers will actually have that surcharge removed altogether. According to the head of development for Audi, Ulrich Hackenberg, he believes diesel is likely to remain the choice for high mileage drivers, particularly in larger cars, saying “Petrol technology will not supplant the efficiency of diesels.”
If there was to be a diesel tax in central London, many other UK cities would have to adopt it so it made a difference to the majority. However, this might not happen. Just look at the congestion charge as an example where other cities have not followed London’s model.
Is now the time to scrap your car in London? It might well be!