Bin diesel scrappage idea and support EVs says RAC Foundation

A proposed diesel car scrappage scheme would have very little effect on air quality - unless implemented on a huge scale - and instead support should be given to electric vehicles, according to analysis by the RAC Foundation.

The idea, proposed by think tank Policy Exchange last month, suggested that a scrappage scheme be set up for drivers of older, more polluting diesel cars, in a similar fashion to the 2009/10's vehicle scrappage scheme. This would give owners an incentive - previously around £2,000 off the price of a new car - to have their highly polluting vehicle taken off the road to benefit air quality.

The RAC Foundation has found that around 1.9 million older diesel cars are on UK roads, fitting into Euro standard categories 1, 2 and 3. Currently, all new cars sold have to be certified to Euro 6 standards.

These older models account for 17 per cent of all diesel cars on the road - more than 11 million in total - and are responsible for 15 per cent of total NOx emissions from diesel cars says the RAC Foundation.

Analysts went on to calculate the benefits of such a scheme if, as would be expected, it ran along the same lines as the vehicle scrappage scheme around seven years ago.

Around 400,000 old diesel cars would be taken off the UK's roads, at a cost of around £800 million should the government and manufacturers each contribute £1,000 for the incentive for customers to buy a new model.

If every one of those cars was replaced with a zero-emission vehicle, the annual cut in NOx emissions from the diesel fleet would be about 4,900 tonnes, or 3.2 per cent of total emissions from diesel cars.

Should the 400,000 models scrapped be replaced with new Euro 6 diesels, that saving would drop to 2,000 tonnes NOx per year at 1.3 per cent of the total, accounting for drivers covering the same mileage as with their old diesel car.

There are concerns that if those new cars were driven as much as current average Euro 6 levels - higher than those of Euro 1, 2 and 3 averages - it could actually increase NOx levels by about 300 tonnes per year. It would also be difficult to target the scrappage scheme at urban areas where air pollution is highest.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Instinctively a scrappage scheme to get the oldest, dirtiest diesels off the road seems like a good idea. But these numbers suggest otherwise. At best it looks like emissions would be reduced by only a few per cent, unless government was prepared to launch a scheme on an unprecedented scale.

"The big considerations for any scheme include: where diesels are being driven, how far they are being driven and how do these factors change with the age of the vehicle. Before being tempted to go down the scrappage route ministers need to ask if the sums might be better spent elsewhere, for example in making sure that the infrastructure is in place to support plug-in electric vehicles.

"The big problem is that not only have the oldest diesel cars failed to live up to official environmental standards, so too have many more recent ones. So a scrappage scheme could cost hundreds of millions of pounds and barely dent the problem. There needs to be a big drive to get more people, and fleet buyers, to commit to ultra-green motoring and that means government subsidies must remain in place to close the price gap that still exists between vehicles powered by alternative fuels and those driven by fossil fuels.

"Already some manufacturers have warned that the still fragile electric car market could be killed off if subsidies are withdrawn too hastily. As the government has itself recognised in its plan for clean air zones, the most pressing issue is what to do about commercial vehicles. A major proportion of the emissions of NOx from road transport come from heavy duty vehicles such as lorries buses and taxis."

Find out more about car emissions at NGC's microsite.

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:11th Apr 2016

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