Badger Impressionist

Badger Impressionist

It’s looking more and more likely that the government’s resident badger impressionist, Alistair Darling, is going to announce on April 22nd that old cars (over 10 years) scrapped when a new car is bought will get the owner a £2,000 incentive. Other European countries have implemented similar schemes – in Germany, for example, car sales increased by 40% in March compared with a year earlier.

Compare that with the UK where new car sales fell again in March with new registrations down 30.5 percent against March 2008. And assumming a new car typically costs about £16,000 so the government won’t even be out of pocket (VAT alone is £2,400 before road tax etc), so why is this idea straight from the “MG Rover” department of naivity and idiocy?

Fuel Economy / CO2

New cars are more efficient than older cars. Heavier maybe, but more efficient. A 2.0 manual petrol Ford Focus in 2000 produced 204g/km of CO2. A 2007 model produces 169g/km. Progress indeed.

However, manufacturers are also getting much better at tuning their car’s to perform well in the standard EU test cycle. With modern fuel injection systems, it’s simple to tune a car for ecomony at test speeds, yet still be able to publish good horsepower figures for selling cars. So anyone who believed we’ve really seen a true 17% improvement in CO2 for Ford Foci in 7 years is kidding themselves.

The SMMT shows that the average g/km of new cars sold in the UK between 1999 and Q2 2008 has dropped from 190 g/km to just 160 g/km today. Very admirable, however we need to remember these are “new” cars. And in 1999 people were buying 4x4s like hot cakes. Today though, the SUV / 4×4 has become ostracised from society and sales have fallen off a cliff. In fact the only area of the car market that’s growing is small cars, and they always have a low g/km figure. So of those 30g/km reduction, probably half of it is as a result of cars becoming more efficient, rather than an overall shift in buying trends away from 4x4s to smaller cars.
New Car CO2 in the UK

We also need to remember the CO2 required to build the car. There are a variety of sources for this, from the energy required to build the car (welding / pressing etc), the energy required for production of parts from raw materials and even the footprint required to scrap and recycle a vehicle. The SMMT (Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders) gives an official figure of about a tonne of CO2 for this whole process. This is widely believed to be far too low.

So let’s say that 1000kg of CO2 is created building a new car, that’s 1,000,000 g of CO2. And lets say that 30g/km is actually saved by getting a newer, smaller, more efficient car through the scrappage scheme. To offset the impact of manufacturing would take a minimum of 20,000 miles of driving, or almost one complete lap of the earth.

Another source is Professor Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University who for the Governmenet calculated that 85% of a car’s CO2 is from fuel , 10% production and 5% destruction. In the simplest terms that means owning one car is 8% more CO2 efficient than owning 2 cars over the same period.
(10%+85%+85%+5% v 10%+85%+5%+10%+85%+5%)

Economy and Jobs

There is no doubt that the economy is the primary focus here, and the government are desperately trying to shore up what remains of the British motor industry. However, 85% of the cars sold in the country are imported from abroad. So if you were really trying to help the British industry, you’d be better taking the protectionist route and giving a subsidy just for British built vehicles of….£13,333. And we should also remember that evidence in Germany has shown people are buying smaller cars (for example the VW Polo – ironically built for VW in Spain), and in the UK we manufacture just 2 small cars, the Mini and the Nissan Micra, which together make up just 5% of the UK market. So most of the public money spent will benefit other nations, rather than our own motor industry.
Electric Mini
And what about the miriad of garages and parts manufacturers who keep the older cars running? 95% are based in the UK, and the plethora of new cars on the road will put many more of them out of business.
Made in Britain

Here’s the kicker with new cars. Some cars can loose 50% of their value in the first year of registration. And this is only going to get worse – what is the market for a 1 year old car going to be like if you can get £2,000 off a new one?

And your £2,000 saving? The moment you drive off the forecourt that will be lost in depreciation anyway.

Time Lag

And this is the big one that everyone appears to have missed. This is not a scheme that can last forever, as there is no reason why the government should subsidise one industry (making up a relatively small part of our economy nowadays) while others feel the pain of a recession. All it will do is create a “Christmas / January Sales” effect pushing the problem down the line where everyone shops now, then the market dries up requiring huge discounting just to get any sales at all. No doubt there will be a strong take-up initially (who doesn’t want £2,000 free from the government coffers?), and people are already holding off buying new cars on the expectation of the grant, further hurting the industry (why would you buy now anyway if this is coming?). But what happens next? All the grants are given out, then what? An even worse drought in car sales, that’s what.

The likely end result is that we will have a short term “blip” in sales (just like Germany’s 40% jump), and an even bigger downturn in the long run. This could hurt the industry far more in the long run than the current “dry-patch”…

So what do we do?

So what should we do? Simple, take the estimated £1bn earmarked for the scheme and invest in research and development in the UK. That’s enough to create jobs for 10,000 people for 3 years developing the new technologies required for the drastic advances needed in automotive technology. The sad truth is that the UK’s cost base is never going to be able to complete with developing nations in manufacturing cars in the long term. Maybe today, yes, but not in 10 years. To really help the industry we need to be at the cutting edge of plug in hybrids, lightweight manufacturing techniques and the next generation of vehicles. The internal combustion engine has done well for us for 100 years, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in it’s current form, it has a finite life span, and if the government wants to have a UK motor industry it needs to get ahead of the curve and be at the cutting edge of the next generation of cars.

After the previous revelation that the Cheeky Girls are going to save the earth due to Segway PT’s, their head of marketing for Europe called me up at the Clear office, and asked if I’d ever tried one. Rather sheepishly I had to say I hadn’t, so he put me in contact with arguably the keenest owner in the UK. Isidore Margaronis is a great chap who commutes from Notting Hill to Piccadilly every day on his Segway.Isidore on his Segway

Putting a staggering amount of trust in a complete stranger, Isidore gave me a quick lesson, then let me loose on his Segway i2. Even though I’d probably feel less self-conscious walking across the pitch at Wembley stadium wearing a chicken suit, it was a lot of fun. Extremely easy to ride, very smooth and a bizarre but very intuitive design. Lean forward, go forward. Lean back, go back. Simple as that.

Anyway, I was interested to validate the manufacturer’s claims for the battery performance / range to confirm it’s environmental credentials, and Isidore kindly took some measurements for his, and from this we’ve created a White Paper, which you can download here and gives all the justification and some comparisons with other modes of transport. Although our original figure of 13 g/km was slightly optimistic, a “real world” figure of 16.6 g/km is still highly impressive, especially when you consider taking the bus is about 94 g/km.The off road Segway

What’s also interesting is that the DfT are still maintaining that the Segway is technically illegal to use other than on private land under section 72 of the Highway Act 1835 (yes, that is 1835). Sutton Police are also trialling them (for use on patrol and I’m told that initial feedback is good. There is also a very active group
pushing for their legalisation and you get the feeling they’re not going to give up without a fight.

So will we one day see hordes of Segways prowling the streets? It’s hard to say. I suspect the DfT will eventually come to their senses, and class them as bicycles / electric bicycles and allow their use on the road / cycle lanes, as they are the most comparable form of transport.

I’m also glad to say that this story does not quite end here, as Clear are being lent a Segway i2 in the next month or so to further test and validate it’s environmental credentials (although we really fancied the off-road version the x2). So thank you Cheeky Girls, you may save the environment after all….segway_co2_white_paper_v12

2008 Mclaren F1 CarLet’s compare an F1 car to a typical car in the UK which produces about 160 g/km, and over a year (10,000 miles) will produce about 2.56 tonnes of CO2.

According to Wikipedia a typical F1 burns 75 litres of fuel per 100km raced. Based on figures for petrol (which is a reasonable proxy of race fuel), 0.75 litres of fuel burnt per km equates to a CO2 output of 1737 g/km. And over a race season using approx 100,000 litres of the stuff, that’s 231 tonnes of CO2. Per car. And each team has 2. So for fuel alone, before the costs of flying to races, support vehicles and the number of cows required to furnish Max Mosley’s “special” wardrobe, that’s about 463 tonnes per team. I wonder if they carbon offset?

At least they’re becoming hybrids for the 2009 season…

So here in London, Boris Johnson has announced he’s going to create a cycle scheme along the lines of the Velib in Paris. He may look like Worzel Gummidge’s mad cousin, but I Boris, outside a barber's yesterdaysuspect he’s a very smart cookie. Good on him.

Now, if this scheme were to take off, then potentially less buses or tube trains would be needed (as if there are enough already! – ed), and this could have a beneficial impact on the carbon footprint of London. So what’s might that be?

Well, 6,000 cycles are going to be used in zone 1, so let’s assume that roughly:

  • 25% replace tube journeys* @ 65.0 g/km
  • 25% replace bus journeys* @ 81.8 g/km
  • 25% replace cab journeys @ 172 g/km
  • 25% replace walking journeys @ 0 g/km

A Parisian Street YesterdaySo, assuming cycling is carbon neutral, that’s an average of 79.7 g/km improvement for every passenger km.

Assuming that any bike in use is averaging 5km / hr through central London, and that at any one point averaged throughout the day (more during the day and less at night of course), 30% of the cycles are in use. Then we can assume that at any point then we can assume that 1800 of them are being crashed by lost tourists, and 9000 km being cycled every hour. Over a day that’s 216,000 km pedalled, or 17.2 tonnes of carbon offset every day. That’s pretty good Boris.

However, does anyone else have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of Boris’s bikes will disappear by the truckload and end up in Albania ?

This world-changing suggestion starts, as all good things should, with the Cheeky Girls. Or more accurately Lembit Opik, the Lim Dem MP who rose into the public consciousness after getting engaged to one of the Romanian lovelies in a publicity stunt. Recently Mr Opik rode a Segway up and down up and down outside the Houses of Parliament, challenging ministers to have him arrested. Why did he want to be arrested? Well currently in the UK, Segways can only be used on private land as they are illegal to use on highways or pavements. However I believe that Segway’s can save the Earth from Climate Change (well a little bit anyway), and I’m going to prove it here.

A Segway

A Segway

So what is a Segway? Well, if you haven’t come across them, they’re a bit like an electric stand up scooter, carrying one person at 12mph for up to 24 miles.  As a guide in the UK, they cost £4,300 including VAT. Hailed as a revolution in transport, they’re yet to catch on in the UK mainly due to their legal status and the still remaining stigma of the Sinclair C5, the last comparable electric vehicle. Segway themselves expected to sell 40,000 of them a year, but in the last 6 years only about 30,000 have been shifted in total.

Anyway, back to the point. How much CO2 in g/km is a Segway responsible for? Well, based on an estimated battery capacity of 0.8kwh, a full charge (and range of 24 miles) is about 0.42 kg of CO2, which being a little more realistic with a range of 20 miles works out at 13 g/km. Which is quite impressive if you compare it to taking the Tube (52.6 g/km), National Rail (60.2 g/km), Bus (94.3 g/km) or even the average Car (160 g/km).

So in carbon terms alone riding a Segway to work would produce less than 15% of the CO2 that taking the Bus does.

How about speed? 12 mph isn’t fast is it? Well in London the average bus makes headway at just 8mph, the average tram 16 mph and tube 18 mph. So 12 mph isn’t that bad at all.

How about range then? Well, taking a London-centric view again, the Segway would get you from Croydon to the middle of London and back on a single charge which is probably further than you’d actually want to travel.

OK then, biggest issue is cost. £4,300 is very expensive for a battery with wheels. Well taking the example of a bus again, let’s say a new one costs £125,000. Well, that would buy you almost 30 Segways. Take into account the cost of driver’s salaries and other running costs of about the same again every year. Assuming you could pick up and drop off Segways at bus stops along the lines of the Velib in Paris (and they were evenly distributed around a city), then realistically after 2 years, you will have paid for a Segway for every passenger (90) on an average bus.

Or from the commuter’s point of view, an annual zone 1-4 Travelcard costs £1,384. That’s 3 years and 2 months before you start saving money on your travelcard. And from then on, you’re saving £1,369 a year on travel costs. (They cost about 7p to completely recharge every day that’s £15 a year in “fuel” costs.)

So there you go. For a typical London commuter doing an 8 mile commute, a Segway would save about 200kg from their carbon footprint every year.

And this beautiful Utopian vision is all thanks to the Cheeky Girls.

According to Autocar/ Clean Green Cars, the average CO2 emissions for new cars now stands at 156.6g/km – that’s 7.4g/km less than a year ago. And at that rate of decline manufacturers are going to reach the EU’s proposed 130g/km target by 2012.

That’s great news. What’s even better is that if you continue this trend past 2012, then by 2030 we’re going to be driving cars which actually burn petrol / diesel and remove CO2 from the atmosphere as if by magic. A brave new world, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Magical Cars in 2030

Magical Cars in 2030

Or it might just be the case that most cars have improved by a more realistic 2.5-3%, but people have stopped buying big luxury cars and 4x4s (sales dropped by 40%-ish for each). Sadly at some point we’re going to run out of people who are going to stop buying 4x4s as they will have already stopped. And at that point, we’re just going to revert to a more 2.5%-3%. And forecasting 4 years into the future, based on 2 data-points is a dangerous game.

Speed-bump, road hump, speed ramp or sleeping policemen. Let’s face it by any name they are the bane of urban driving (unless of course you make your living selling replacement shock absorbers). They’re a hassle, damage cars and cause urbanites to drive otherwise unnecessary 4x4s (in my experience anyway). Yes, average speeds are reduced, but so is your attention of what’s up ahead as you’re trying not to clout your exhaust on that unnecessary piece of road calming. Other complaints made against them are that they slow down emergency services (endangering lives), they are particularly unhealthy for people with back or neck pain and create noise for local residents.

Speed Humps

Speed Humps

But I can add another one, that they’re giving the poor Polar Bears an early bath. Yup, that speed bump round the corner on Mornington Close is directly responsible for the increasing popularity of bear-centric swimming lessons at the North Pole. So let me tell you how….

The AA (Automobile Association) did a bit of research on fuel consumption for cars at the Millbrook Proving Ground and found that a typical mid-size car running at a constant 30 mph did 58 mpg. However a car slowing down and speeding up for speed bumps only did 31 mpg. Put that into carbon figures* for a petrol car** and you get 113 g/km of CO2 at a constant 30mph, or 211 g/km over speed bumps. So a kilometer of road with speed bumps creates an extra 0.1kg of CO2 for every single car that travels it.

For argument’s sake, lets say this km of road has on a average a car going each way down it every minute during the day and night***. In a year, that means a single stretch of road creates an extra 103 tonnes of unnecessary CO2 per year. We’re making estimates here, but if that km of road has 10 of the UK’s estimated 100,000 speed humps, then speed bumps in Britain are responsible for a colossal 1.03 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s about the same as the total carbon footprint of the 830,000 residents of Fiji, or almost twice that of Greenland. Ouch.



You can console yourself that as a UK taxpayer, based on the estimate that 50 standard humps on three or four connecting residential streets costs about £150,000. So the UK speed hump population cost us £300 million pounds. Which is about what Newcastle United would cost you if you wondered up to St James’ Park with a really big chequebook this morning.

*Clear research

** A diesel car is actually worse with 128 v 240 g/km

*** More in the day and less at night of course

More information here.