When is a bail out not a bail out? When it is a green incentive scheme, apparently.
To the surprise of no one, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) confirmed this week that sales of new cars during March were through the floor again as cash strapped motorists resolutely refuse to head to the showrooms.
Right on cue, the sorry state of the industry prompted fresh calls for a "scrappage scheme" similar to those already in place in Germany and France which offer motorists a cash handout if they trade in old vehicles for new models.
In an attempt to strengthen its case, the motor industry has argued (apparently with a straight face) that such a scheme would be "green" as it would incentivise motorists to scrap older, more polluting models and purchase cleaner, more fuel efficient cars.
You would be forgiven for thinking then, that the car industry is proposing that you would only qualify for the hand out of around £2,000 if you traded in your old car for a relatively low emission model. Sadly, you would be wrong.
Under the SMMT's proposals, which are apparently being given serious consideration by the government, trading in any car registered prior to 2000 when buying any new or nearly new car would qualify you for the incentive. This is a "green" incentive scheme where you could trade in a two door runabout for a gas guzzling 4x4 and receive £2,000 off the purchase price.
The environmental campaigner George Monbiot has already delivered a comprehensive evisceration of the flawed logic behind the scheme, but it is really worth highlighting again quite how ridiculous it is from an environmental perspective. These proposals are the worst type of "greenwash": misleading, opportunistic and capable of blocking genuinely green proposals.
A spokesman for the SMMT insisted that the reality is that the incentives would "be more attractive to potential buyers of smaller cars" and that they would help deliver a net cut in emissions as "a modern new car is more than likely to be a lower emitter (and safer) than the one it would replace because of advances in engine technology".
This is probably the case, but an effective incentive scheme should look to maximise emission reductions, not deliver improvements that would happen over time anyway as old cars are naturally replaced with newer models.
Monbiot is right in his assertion that incentives for green cars are never going to be particularly cost effective, but if we must deliver some kind of boost for the auto industry then the government should call car companies' bluff and provide a real green incentive scheme that only rewards the manufacturers that recognised the long term sales trends and delivered more fuel efficient vehicles.
Why not follow Japan's lead and offer subsidies on hybrids and electric cars? Or alternatively introduce a scrappage fee, but only if the car being purchased has emissions that are significantly below the average of 160g/km.
The car industry would argue that a "restrictive" incentive scheme such as this would not prove as effective at bolstering sales. But what is restrictive about making the greenest third of the market, say, more attractive to consumers?
After all, it was the car industry that asked for a "green incentive" scheme, what could it possibly have to complain about if it got one?
Of course, manufacturers of less fuel efficient models would bleat about the market being tilted against them. But it is already tilted against them as a result of their failure to realise that people increasingly want green and fuel efficient cars - incentives for more fuel efficient cars would simply move it a few more degrees in favour of those companies producing the low emission vehicles that all but the most myopic climate change deniers now accept are required.
If, what the car industry wants is a bailout, then it should ask for one (though it is hardly the most deserving cause out there), not attempt to conceal its true intentions behind a green veneer that only serves to reduce the chances of us getting a real green car incentive scheme.
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