Monday, June 23, 2008

Is the Car Industry Headed in the Right Direction?

I came across an interesting article by Iain Carson in the Guardian. He argues that "manufacturers will only deliver improvements when they are forced to."

Giving us a brief history lesson, he cites that "One hundred years ago this October Henry Ford's Model T launched the mass motor industry. Simple and rugged enough for country tracks, it was also the world's first flex-fuel vehicle. Its engine could runon petrol or ethanol; Ford thought that farmers might prefer to make their own fuel from corn. In fact it was already as economical with either fuel as the average American car today."

"Until the Model T, nine out of 10 cars were electric. Gasoline-powered vehicles came to dominate as oil was found in Texas, and the battery-powered starter motor made internal combustion cars easier and safer to start, without dangerous backfires. Now the car industry looks set for another revolution."

"The most hopeful sign across the board is that the car industry, led by Toyota, has realised that it is in its own interest to develop alternative technologies that really work to cut carbon emissions. Toyota has sold a million of its conventional petrol-electric hybrid cars, and other manufacturers are piling in with their versions. GM [recently] reaffirmed bringing to market its Volt plug-in hybrid in 2010 - and said it might ditch its gas-guzzling Hummers."

"The Volt is an example of the latest twist in the hybrid - it can be plugged into the mains overnight, and equipped with a battery that can provide a range greater than 30 miles; the petrol engine is only a stand-by if the battery runs down. Battery-powered vehicles, even if the electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, are more energy efficient than internal combustion engines; if the electricity comes from nuclear or renewables, there is no carbon emission at all."

"Beyond the plug-in hybrid or battery-only car being developed by Renault and others, there is the fuel-cell electric vehicle, running on hydrogen and emitting only water vapour from its exhaust pipe. Makers such as Toyota, Honda and Mercedes believe that the car of the future will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells within 20 years, and costs are coming down as parts suppliers develop mass production techniques."

"Oil and energy companies are working with Mercedes and others to create a "hydrogen highway" carving through Germany from north to south. The European commission and the German government are putting about a billion euros into developing the network. Even if making hydrogen consumes electricity, the fuel cell is still more efficient than internal combustion engines."

"No one can be sure if electric cars, biofuels or hydrogen power are the answer to cutting emissions. What seems to be happening is that these different technologies are competing with each other to improve the carbon footprint of road transport. The tougher the rules, the harder car companies will work to find alternatives. And high petrol prices are already changing US motorists: in March they drove about 10% less than a year earlier, and sales of gas-guzzling SUVs have tumbled. Meanwhile, even if oil eases back to around $100 a barrel, the days of cheap motoring are over."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Alliance Wins Legal Challenge: Car Billboard Ads to Show Climate Impact

Car adverts on billboards and in magazines will now be emblazoned with the car’s climate impacts, after the Government yesterday agreed to change its advertising guidelines in response to the threat of legal proceedings by the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.

The fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of vehicle will now have to be prominently displayed, arming consumers with the information they need to choose a greener vehicle – and one that needs to be filled up with fuel less often.

The Department for Transport admitted that it had been wrongly interpreting an EU Directive on car advertising, which says that fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions information must be prominently provided in all promotional literature. The Government has until now exempted ‘primarily graphical’ adverts from the law with the effect that most billboard adverts did not include information about the car’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The announcement came in response to a legal letter to the Department for Transport from Friends of the Earth’s Rights & Justice Centre acting for the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s. We wrote to the DfT in March to point out that the UK wasn’t abiding with EU law and warned the Government that they would issue Judicial Review proceedings if the guidance was not changed.

From now on, it won’t be enough to woo consumers with a sleek and sexy image of a car in billboard ads – car advertisers will need to give real and readable facts about the car’s fuel economy and environmental impact. With rising fuel costs and a growing awareness about climate change, this information is crucially important for people to make greener and cheaper choices of vehicle.

In order to cut emissions from cars, we need both strong regulation on advertising and also strong regulation that forces car manufacturers to make more efficient cars. Today’s change in the advertising rules will help encourage car-makers to build more efficient vehicles, something they have so far been very slow to do.

Phil Michaels, Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth said:
“Until now allowed the UK was getting away with flouting EU legislation on car advertising – but our legal action has closed the loophole.

“Consumers have a right to meaningful information about how much carbon dioxide a car emits and how much fuel it guzzles, so they can choose to buy a car that will be greener and cheaper to run. We will be watching carefully to make sure that the law is now properly enforced.”

See the cars and CO2 campaign website here:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

MORI Poll Says No Backdown on Higher Fuel Duty and VED

The recent economic downturn has been the trigger for the first wave of stories prophesying the end of the environmental agenda, according to the Green Alliance.

We have been hearing about hauliers protests and new petitions by motorists calling for scrapping the fuel duty and cancelling the increases in VED.

According to the Green Alliance, "the media analysis of these issues has been based on flimsy evidence. The public is not in denial, and doesn't want leaders to ignore these issues. MORI polling backs this up, showing that concern for environmental issues is actually still remarkably high."

They continue: "People are anxious about the economy and the impact of rising fuel, energy, and food prices."

"The challenge for politicians and the environmental community is to develop a positive policy agenda that addresses public anxieties, and reminds us all that the current economic turbulence is only a tremor by comparison to the disruptions that we face if we fail to prevent climate change."

"As Peter Ainsworth, shadow environment secretary, said recently in the Financial Times: “The idea that green issues evaporate at the first touch of economic hardship betrays a misunderstanding of the environmental agenda. The necessity to build a sustainable economy is not just a ‘green issue’. It is just as much an economic one; business as usual is clearly unsustainable in the long term.”

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New Health Warnings on Car Ads

Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies and the EU Environmental Committee have started a move that may see 20% of all car ads covered with health warnings similar to the one pictured.

According to Mr. Davies, "I want to encourage a shift in consumer behaviour which will communicate to car manufacturers in a financial way that it's in their interests to reduce emissions. Manufacturers of high emission cars hate this idea."

Londoners can attest to the anger of car manufacturers when they hate an idea; Porsche recently ran an all out PR battle to have Ken Livingstone defeated when he threatened to charge their beloved gas guzzlers up to £25 per day.

Promotional material including magazines, newspapers and billboards posters for new cars must currently include CO2 and fuel consumption information, although many car manufacturers fail to comply. The European Commission is now being urged not only to enforce the existing regulations but also to extend the rules to cover television, radio and internet.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

4x4 Sales fall 18% in the UK

Last week came the welcome news that sales of 4x4s has fallen last month by 18% compared to sales in May 2007. At the same time sales of smarter 'greener' cars have soared by 120%, according to new SMMT figures.

According to the SMMT, "sales of 4x4s fell from 13,617 in May last year to 11,126 this May, a drop of 18.3%. Even sales of smaller off-roaders to which many drivers have already 'down-sized' have fallen."

This comes at a time when 4x4 sales are generally slumping in the US as well, do to increasing fuel, food and energy costs. GM recently reported that they may stop producing the large Hummer SUV.

In the UK there is also a new increase in VED taxation as well as increased fuel duty.