Thursday, 7 June 2007

Vauxhall’s inflammatory press release

Apparently the sight of an old banger, belching choking exhaust fumes, is all too common. Clearly it is too common for someone at Vauxhall who – understandably, given their position – would rather see everyone in a new Vauxhall. As a result, Vauxhall are offering a £1,000 “bonus” to anyone trading in an old car as long as that car is scrapped. To add credibility to their argument about the number of old cars Vauxhall quote some figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders; 15 million cars are at least seven years old; of that 15 million nine million are over nine years old and four million are over 12 years old.

It is interesting that Vauxhall neglect to put these figures in perspective by quoting the total number of vehicles on the road or by offering finer detail about the rate of attrition past 12 years. I imagine that most cars can sail past their 12th anniversary with ease but few will see their 20th. My own unscientific study of the cars around me as I drove home suggested that most cars are less than 7 years old (based on the number of cars displaying the new format registration plates). If I hadn’t seen a Bentley station wagon (either MK VI or R-Type which puts it between 57 and 61 years old) then the 19yr old Citroen that serves as fourwheelsteer’s daily transport was the oldest car I saw. All of which suggests that old cars are pretty rare; the occasional banger is only noticed because it stands out against the background of newer cars.

An unscientific test which I inadvertently conducted earlier this year contradicts Vauxhall’s assertion that their new cars are more economical than the old ones. I had the dubious pleasure of hiring a Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 because my own car was out of action; it was pathetically slow, embarrassingly low-geared and not that economical (35mpg I think). A week later I borrowed a 1995 Astra 1.4. Doing the same journeys, under the same conditions and enjoying better performance the older car used less fuel. Given the older car’s cruder engine management and fuel injection that is quite impressive. The older car had a catalytic converter (as will anything post 1992) so how much worse can its emissions be?

Never mind the pollutants that are generated by car usage, they are trivial compared to the energy and resources required to make a new car. Given that cars are getting heavier it is axiomatic that they must need more material and more energy to produce than ever before. The best way to repay the investment in energy and materials required to make a car is to keep it running as long as possible.

The final and most disturbing point is just how anyone with a car worth £500 or less – and it can’t be worth much more than £500 if a £1,000 trade in is to be considered worthwhile – is going to afford £6,500 for a new Corsa. Of course Vauxhall will gladly offer attractive finance packages, so that instead of owning a car outright someone without much money ends up with a burden of debt.

Maybe if Vauxhall were serious about cleaning up old cars they would do more to maintain adequate stocks of spare parts for older models. Perhaps some work could be done to see about adding more modern engine management to older cars (there was certainly room under the bonnet of the Astra for multi-point injection and engine management systems). It would be a more convincing statement than a lot of nonsense about a non-existent problem and a measly fixed-price trade in.

2 comments:

Davey49 said...

Personally I think Vauxhall wants someone to give them a 20 year old Mercedes-Benz or a 15 year old Toyota or Honda so they can take it back to an engineering facility so they can figure out how to build a car that will last over 12 years.

Nick Read said...

This old chestnut seems to crop up every few years, some car manufacturer telling us that the best way to save the planet is to use more natural resources to build even more new cars - utter nonsense of course. The exhaust emissions of an old car used daily would take years to equal the amount of pollution created each time a new car is built.