New wheels for old drivers

June 2, 2009

Tom Whipple
378 words
19 May 2009
The Times
1
6
English
(c) 2009 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

As environmental policies go, it is a tricky sell: buy more cars to save the planet. But the government scrappage scheme — offering £2,000 towards a new car if you trade in a ten-year-old model — claims to do just that. It may be designed to boost the economy but, Lord Mandelson assures us, the benefits will be felt in happy polar bears as well as happy bankers.

The premise is this: ten years ago, an average car belched out 190g of CO2 per kilometre; now it gently wafts 158g over the same distance. So new cars are better. Environmentalists counter that, while this may be true, there is also a CO2 cost in just making a new car. And here is the problem. Emissions data is a routine requirement for all cars. There is no such requirement for production data — we must trust manufacturers.

Volkswagen estimates that making a car takes about five tonnes of CO2. Ford estimates six tonnes. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, meanwhile — which lobbied for the scrappage scheme — prefers just 0.6 tonnes. Someone is wrong; but let us go with the majority view. It would take 190,000 kilometres of driving before the advantage in lower CO2 emissions outweighed an initial six-tonne disadvantage in production. As the average UK car covers 14,500km a year, that equals 13 years of driving.

Sceptical environmentalists may have yet another gripe. It was reported yesterday that, according to “one Citroën dealership in Reading”, most of those taking the £2,000 are pensioners. Now, Badstats would normally prefer a broader sample — perhaps surveying a Toyota garage in Maidenhead as well — but, assuming that the story is correct, how would this affect the calculation? According to the RAC, over-70s drive about half as far as the national average — thus requiring 26 years to recover the CO2 on a new car. This leads to another, delicate, question: how old do you have to be before death is a more probable outcome than being around for 26 years? The answer is 56. The new car scrappage scheme: excellent for the environment, provided both car and owner can last for a quarter of a century.

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