7 June 2007
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the appeal of fast cars, the damage they do to the climate, and moves being debated in Europe to limit car emissions and put a health warning on car advertisements.
The Europe Diary has now developed into Mark Mardell's Euroblog.
Should you be allowed to drive cars that can do a ton, even if you'd be breaking the law? We all know that boys - and girls - of all ages love shiny, big, powerful toys.
Do car manufacturers appeal to the child in us?
But do car manufacturers appeal to the child in us all who loves to go "Vrrrrm!" at the expense of the world's climate?
Members of the European Parliament are being urged to think so and to stand up to them. The European Parliament is going to be asked to beef up plans to fight global warming by stopping cars pumping out so much carbon dioxide.
NOT SO FAST
The European Commission came up with its own idea for the laws in February and since then I've been trying to track what is happening to this proposed law, which will affect how we drive all over Europe.
The first really major step since then is upon us. Parliament is getting involved. The basis of this is a report which has just gone to the translators, who will doubtless have fun finding out the Maltese, Irish and Latvian for technical terms like "limit value curve". It will then be debated in a committee at the end of this month.
June: Environment committee debate
September: Environment committee vote
October: Full parliament debate
End 2007 / early 2008: Draft legislation from European Commission
The MEPs will then have a chance to vote on further changes in September and the full parliament will debate it in October. I've had a sneak preview of the report that the debate will be based on. It's written by the Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies, who is what is known in the jargon as the "rapporteur" on the proposal.
He wants to ban cars that are capable of doing more than 101mph... that's 162km/h. (It's based on 25% more than the average upper speed limit.) Only military, emergency and police cars would be exempt from the law, which would come into force in four years' time.
Some Germans favour a speed limit on the autobahn
Mr Davies notes that between 1994 and 2004 the power of new cars went up by 28%, making them a lot heavier, and so increasing the amount of CO2 they put out, even though no country raised its speed limit to allow cars to use this increased power.
The report that the parliament will vote on also calls for a big change in the way cars are advertised.
A fifth of ads would have to be given over to a variation on the health warning on cigarette packets. It wouldn't actually point out the dangers of CO2 emission, but would highlight the car's fuel efficiency (or lack of it) and its CO2 emissions. It would also be made illegal for adverts to boast about cars being able to go faster than the national speed limit, although not being an avid reader of car ads I don't know whether they really do this on a regular basis anyway.
Manufacturers won't like the idea of cutting the power of their machines
But what do you think: is it right to ban the wannabe boy racers and help fight climate change, or is this more EU interference in the way we live our lives? You can also listen to my report on the report, and an interview with the author, on Radio 4's PM programme on Friday 8 June. I'm planning to drive a big powerful car to illustrate the allure. And, well, just for the hell of it. But rest assured, gentle reader, it won't cost the licence payer a penny. And I won't break the speed limit.
The car manufacturers probably won't like the idea of cutting the power of their machines, but Chris Davies has listened to their demands for more time to implement any changes.
He says the commission proposal to make them cut average CO2 emissions to 130g for every kilometre driven by 2012 is "too costly". So he's suggesting giving them another three years on top of that, but at the price of making further cuts.
Commission proposal: 130g/km by 2012
Davies report: 120g/km by 2015; 95g/km by 2020
Average in 2005: 162g/km
120g/km = 4.5 litres of diesel, or 5 litres of petrol, per 100km
He'll be asking the parliament to back his suggestion of a law making the average emission 120g from 2015, and not allowing any new car to go on the market if it produces more than double that, which would really hit the posh sports car market. And he wants a further tightening to just 95g by 2020.
FINES AND REWARDS
One of the big questions in this whole debate is how to punish offenders. The report comes up with the idea of fining manufacturers who break the limits. The scheme would come into effect in three years' time and would also contain an element of reward for good behaviour.
Mr Davies has called this the Carbon Allowance Reduction System (CARS: geddit?). The fines, at a level to be set by the commission, could be offset by credits for new cars that produce less carbon dioxide than the legal standard. It's going to be interesting to see how much of this Mr Davies' colleagues accept when they come to debate it.
I wrote a while ago about turning this diary into a blog and some of my apprehensions. But I'm told it can still appear regularly on Thursdays with the additional benefit of filing stuff (that's a technical term) whenever I like it and replying to some of your comments.
Be warned. It's the sort of thing I get caught up in and can spend ages agonising over criticisms and mulling over rebuttals, denials and old-fashioned abuse when I ought to be reading another fascinating commission report or actually talking to people. Sometimes editors of newspaper columns announce, "This correspondence is closed," but I bet I am one of the few journalists to have bored one complainant (by letter) into submission. After several exchanges he concluded, "This correspondence is now closed." I can't remember what my alleged offence had been but I regarded that as a sweet victory.
Anyway, I will start the blogging process next week, on plans for a new European treaty in place of the constitution rejected two years and a month ago. We're getting close to the summit at the end of the month and things are hotting up. Watch this space.
Please use the post form below to comment on any of the issues raised in the diary.
Mark replies: A number of you question the relationship between a car's power and weight. I confess that I may have over-interpreted a section of the report: Mr Davies writes that, "The power of new cars... grew by an average of 28% over the decade to 2004, greatly exceeding the 15% increase in their weight." So he is actually making the point the extra power isn't needed, although I don't think he quarrels with the extrapolation I made. I've just interviewed a Green Party MEP who (unprompted) made the claim that the extra weight is for safety reasons, but that the safety features are necessary because of the power of the cars. Then again the European Transport Safety Council argues it's not safety but "the top speed capabilities of today's cars" that is driving car weight up. So at the very least it is a battle for interpretations.
This whole idea is ludicrous, as several people have said it boils down to envy tax/persecution. Why is so much focus placed on people's choice of car? Why don¿t the environmentalists look at why a couple need a 5-bedroom house, when a caravan would keep them dry? Or why do people buy a £500 outfit when a sack would cover you up and keep you warm? The choice of car is like all things in life down to personal preference and money. Most of what we do is bad for the planet, not just cars. I prefer to drive large powerful cars. The last three ran on LPG, so were low in emissions. A performance car is not just about going fast, it also handles well and stops quickly too, so is therefore safer.
The idea of banning motor sport made me fume. Why motor sport? Why not focus on banning football, cricket, horseracing tennis etc, as people expend vast amounts of CO2 travelling to watch such events, as well as all the electricity wasted watching it on TV. Also most race cars use methanol, which is a low-polluting renewable fuel anyway! Motor sport also drives advancement in technology, which we all benefit from.
David Jordan, Exeter Devon
It is possible to make a car which gets 1000 mpg, yet we seldom see cars on the market which achieve 50 mpg. Seems like there is plenty of room for change. Besides a more fuel-efficient car, what about a better public transportation system? Shouldn't that also reduce the emissions? My car can't pollute if I don't drive it. I think reducing taxi fares would also work. The combination of the two would mean that less people would even need to use their car, or even own a car at all!
Leigh Boyd, Oernskoeldsvik, Sweden
Just remember around 50% of the energy a car uses in its life and CO2 it causes is during its manufacture and that's 85% for a Prius (that will only last 100,000 miles, whereas a Hummer will last 300,000 miles and effectively produce less wastage as the batteries on a Prius are not recyclable!!). The car as a whole only produces as much CO2 as cows do.. so let's ban cows.. or concrete, as that's the same percentage.
Paul Haywood, Ryton-on-Dunsmore UK
As someone who drives one of these dreaded gas-guzzling sports cars I feel the need to speak up for drivers like me everywhere. To all those people who think these cars should be banned, guess what? We never drive our cars. I put 3000 miles on my car in 9 months. My daily driver is a little 4-cylinder BMW. When you own a Ferrari you don't drive it to work, you keep it in your garage and only use it on special occasions. It is like expensive chocolate, you don't chow down on it like fish and chips, you take a little at a time. Most of these cars are electronically limited to 155mph, so what are they going to do, limit them to 100mph? Big deal, one swap of the regulator chip will allow you to go 200 mph again. This is a waste of time and money, there are better ways to save the environment.
Chris Bishop, Austin, Texas
I have made a huge contribution to stop global warming by having only one child. As a reward for that I will be buying an Aston Martin DB9.
pierre linsoni, Montpellier
What is the matter with this country!! Don't do this - you can't do that - I thought we were suppose to live in a democratic state where we have freedom of choice - one by one our freedoms are being eroded
Jasmine Gayton, Eastbourne East Sussex
Why do we never hear of the emisions of,Buses,Trucks,Ships, all we see in the news is the poor old car. Try riding a bike in the city along side an old bus or truck.
John , Egremont Cumbria
Well as a proud owner of new Toyota Prius Hybrid car I think its absolutely ludicrous that this kind of technology is not made compulsory. So rather than necessarily capping power output etc why don't we at least force manufacturers to use hybrid technology which halves the consumption.
Alex Tapaccos, Limassol,Cyprus
The car is such a minnow in the global fish tank, but just so easy to catch.
Phil Bibby, Barrow, UK
Interesting. I support these proposals in general. I am sure people will be busy thinking of reasons why they absolutely need a car with a big engine though. "But how else will I get my caravan to the top of Mont Blanc?"
Isabella Jackman, Germany
I own a powerful sports car. I do not use it to it's full potential on public roads but can attend 'track days' for the thrill of higher speeds in a safe environment. I am fed up with Big Brother interfering in my life for the so called greater good. This one will never fly!
There are electric cars capable of 0-60 in 4 seconds, with a top speed of 130 MPH, and with a 200 mile range. Take for example the American Tesla Motors sports car co-developed by our very own Lotus Engineering. The UK should be importing these cars now to counter sales of gas guzzling vehicles
Pete, Snodland, Kent
Aircraft cause much more global warming effect than motor vehicles so ban them first.Air pollution around Heathrow is way above the EU maximum.
John Phillips, West Drayton, Middx
The Great Global Warming Swindle - watch it and understand why I drive my Porsche every day with a clear conscience..
Andy Thain, UK
The first thing I would do on buying a new car is to remove the speed limiter. Perhaps when half the country is in prison they will be happy. Another step towards the Revolution!
Peter Fisher, Ashford England
Why don¿t the governments just ban cars, give us all lobotomies and do what they will with us... it would just save a whole lot of time and money and we will still end up in the same location!
More EU drivel.
I think car manufacturers are missing a trick here. Lots of people do care about the environment and do want cleaner cars. There's a whole new angle to be explored in marketing and glamourising economy and greenness.
Chris, Southampton, England
I'm definitely in favour. How about fining the people who drive the cars instead? That would hurt the manufacturers even more, because nobody would buy their cars!
Ben Simkins, Vevey, Switzerland
I now look forward to the MEP's refusing to send the many trucks and aircraft to Strasbourg every month for the ridiculous and environment damaging plenaries.
Why do they immediately assume the best idea is to make cars less powerful and not make the roads faster.
'Two Jags Prescott' does sound a little better than 'Two Micra's Prescott'.
I would like to challenge Mr Davies to tow a trailer/caravan in a car with such a tiny engine!!
V, Lincoln, England
I do not understand why car manufacturers have to be let off the hook all the time. The current BMW 118 has lower emissions than the 130 g/Km limit so why can't the rest manage it? Can't we shame them into it? As for speed limiting, can't a device be fitted to do this? I think it's been done for learner motorcycles....
Bob Irving, Cirencester, UK
Are we so naive that we expect manufactures to make emergency vehicles so different from the ones we 'ordinary' people can have & that the ' go faster' brigade won't be able to get the faster bits or remove the bits which restrict the slower models ?
m healey, Stockport
Its good to hear that the EU will limit top end speeds of cars! I assume that is your point, but you mention only limiting the power of the car, which i am sure will enrage many a petrol head/ speed freak. The relationship between power of the engine (acceleration/ torque etc etc) need not be affected at all by limiting the top speed. So I would fully support the EU on this one, 25% on top of the national speed limits seems fair, allowinf for acceleration above the limit for safety purposes.... Who NEEDS to go more than 160km/hr? (apart from Emergency services)
onlyme2006, Belgium/ Brabant Wallon
I love powerful cars but I hate big heavy cars! The two are not mutually exclusive. I own a sportscar but it's very light and 'only' makes 120bhp but it's fast enough and great fun to drive.
Car manufacturers do need encouraging to reduce the weight of their cars but I would not like to see a limit on top speed.
Limiting top speed serves no purpose in reducing CO2 emmissions and is just a way of punishing those who can afford a fast car.
Weight reduction is the way forward.
Justin, Birmingham UK
That's right, take away our dreams. Cheers. Just what we need. Really, how many of us own super cars? We know we're never going to own them, but please don't legislate them off the roads. If you really want to force manufacturers to build cleaner cars, raise petrol to ten pounds per litre. Or how about allowing the removal of all those mandatory safety features? That would make cars lighter, and so they'd need less power, and could run less powerful engines. Easy. But if we're really looking at climate issues, why not ban airfreighting of fresh vegetables from Thailand, Kenya, Peru and Israel? How many car exhaust equivalents per year do they add up to?
As always, when reading these article on CO2 produced by cars, I am completely puzzled by the figures :
"120g/km = 5 litres of petrol, per 100km "
How can you produce 12 Kg of CO2 (i.e 120g/Km x 100Km ) out of 5 litres of fuel which weight about 5 Kg ? Where does the extra 7 Kg of matter come from ?
These figures are all over the place and I would appreciate any help on the subject.
Olivier, London UK
Can we take this into perspective .. what sort of percentage of cars are there that are say supercars ? how many of them can the owbers aford to drive on a daily basis ? really I think we are going mad here again with being politicaly correct .. Fast car drivers already pay the price in Insurance, fuel, MPG etc lets not take away the pleasures of driving.
Monir Mohammed, Croydon, Surry
First I say hello to all this team or corporations who are working in this regards.
then the companies who are involved to make much powerful vehicles they must see and check the healt, climate and CO2 that comes out of the vehicles. that how much it is benefite or not for the people and climate.
Abdullah Obaid, Kabul, Afghanistan
While some of the points raised are valid, the increased power of cars in the past fifteen years has been the partial result of the EU legislation enforcing stricter safety standards and features in new vehicles.
Crash zones, crumple cells, airbags, increased pedestrian protection etc all add weight to a car - to make a new model perform as the old one (and as we expect), manufacturers have to increase the engine's power.
Mr Davies only appears to be considering one half of the story.
Andy, Leeds, West Yorkshire
101mph sounds quite fast enough for any reasonable need (bar exceptions quoted). Cars should be fitted with speed limiters and SCRAPPED if caught without! Oh and Jeremy Clarkson should be fitted with a ball and chain.
Simon Kearney, Tideswell, Rngland
There is no doubt that cars are getting bigger and heavier but this is driven by the manufacturers enlarging each new model and the increase in crash protection. Strengthening beams and crumple zones all add to the weight of the car.
Modern cars squeeze a lot more power from smaller engines so drawing a cause and effect comparison between power and weight is fatuous.
Alex Dalton, Edinburgh, Scotland
It's not just big, fast "sports" cars that are more inefficient, but also the large number of people carriers. These have become an a necessity for people with more than 2 children as it is impossible to fit 3 child seats (or 2 children and 1 adult) into the back seat on virtually any vehicle on the market. Hence increased safety is also a contributor to CO2 levels too!
Rhys Morgan, Bridgnorth, UK
Pollution has been ignored/permitted for the enrichment of very few. People have been fooled by individuals whose greed clouds their judgement. These people think they are different despite all evidence to the contrary. Life on Earth is sustained by beneficial cycles of which cars, power stations, electricity grids are not a part. The concerns of the car manufacturers should be towards sustainable transport instead of profits which they will never get enough.
callum macleod, huntly, scotland
I've seen much talk about tightening up CO2 emissions on new cars... but very little about applying these rules to the older cars on the roads. Most new cars - with some obvious exceptions - are pretty good on their emmissions, but many is the time I have driven through London behind a Black Cab or lorry that's belching choking clouds of dense black smoke. How about addressing this issue first?
Steve Cansdale, London, England
Surely, it is not the power of the car, but the number of miles driver/fuel consumed. What is wrong with enjoying a good car, providing it is done responsibly and with a view to minimising fuel consumed. My car doesn't get used for 5 days out of seven, then, when it is, I will fit as many car essential tasks into the journey. Other days I will use cycle, train or feet to get about. There's no point in having highly fuel efficient car, if that car is regulalrly used for fatuous journeys.
Dave Tilbury, Eastleigh
Yet again, the European Parliament sticks its beak in to our lives. How did we ever live without being told what to do, what to drive and what to eat?
Why doesn't Europe do something about America's lack of interest in signing up to the Kyoto treaty? Introduce some penalties for them instead of the Europeans that already go above and beyond to try and level out America's selfishness.
Bog off Brussels.
Lewis, Leeds, UK
I do a weekly drive of 300km from Zurich into Germany. The first 100km are painful on the Swiss Motorway - limit is 120km, then we have 20km of Austrian normal roads that make the M25 look uncluttered (ZZzzzz)... and finally... finally, we hit the German autobahn. At last I can get my car (Ford Fiesta) moving and get home before I fall asleep after a long week... Reduce the speed limits? Will that make people drive better? Will you survive a (slow) 120kmph head on impact? Will my Fiesta going 20kmph slower than it presently does save the planet? Or indeed everyones cars going slower? I doubt it... Just another effort of the EU to extend its mandate further into our lives whilst lining its pockets with punitive fines to blow in Brussels.
Darran, London, Munich, Zurich, Copenhagen
I would like to say though that however big or small the engine of a car. Its the driver that decides how fast to drive it. I live on a former part of the A41 that has now been bypassed for a few years. The speed limit outside the house in a relatively built up housing area has been 40mph for at least the last 14 years.
In the last six months the limit has been reduced to 30mph. When cars do actually travel at 30mph the village changes. Substantially less tyre noise, less exhaust noise, less whizzing as the cars pass by. I don't know for a fact but this must also help the enviroment. The only trouble is hardly anybody follows the 30mph limit, most don't even follow the former 40mph limit. Of course the locals stick to the speed limit for their own enviroment. But other drivers see this as a chance to over take them. For an estimate: 60-70% of the cars that pass are doing over 50mph with some very easily doing 60-80mph. When you look at the cars and the drivers they are usually small, low emmission cars being driven by young drivers or suprisingly women driving family cars happy to get from A to B a quick as possible. I don't remember ever seeing a fast, powerful car being driven as fast through the village. My point, we need to reduce the speed of the drivers first, not necessarily the cars.
Jason, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
The increased power of the average modern car is a by-product of increased efficiency, to go further on a gallon of fuel, you must extract more energy from burning it, that means more power at full throttle.
The increasing weight of modern cars is largely due to more stringent safety requirements, adding strength to the passenger cell makes it heavier & no I don't work in the motor industry, although I am an engineer.
Speaking of safety, modern car's brakes, tyres & suspension are as good as they are ONLY because the car is theoretically capable of, say, 150mph. Cap the top speed to 101, & manufacturers will fit smaller brakes, lower spec tyres & poorer suspension - which will affect safety throughout the speed range.
To evaluate these proposals I suggest that rather than drive a supercar, you drive, say a new Mondeo diesel for a week, then a 2cv or perhaps a very early Mini for the same amount of time. Choose a week when you need to do long trips on a motorway, then reflect that the Mondeo uses LESS fuel that either of the two slower / lighter cars.
Like I said, this is the usual psudo-green nonsense.
Tony Hart, Guildford UK
The worlds goverments keep spouting about how they want to save the planet but the only thing they can seem to come up with is to keep hitting the motorist and they are the easy target. Why has NO goverment anywhere in the world the guts to take on the airlines. Aircarft engines throw out CO2 then any car know to man. Tony Blair keeps harping on about "green" issues yet does not have the courage to deal with Aircraft. We now hear that Heathrow & Stansted will be expanded which will mean more palnes which means more CO2. Come on world leaders start to smell what you are standing in and stop thinking that we the people who elected you are stupid enough to take in all the rubbish you are feeding us.
Deal with the AIRCRAFT first before you get on your soap box and tell us how bad cars are. Or are the Airlines just too powerful and you don't have the guts to take them on?
John, Leicestershire, England.
I was interested in the subject of speed capping vehicles. On first reading it seems sensible - why build cars that can break the speed limit? If this is really related to climate concerns then why limit this approach to cars? For example, people live in houses far larger than they need to be (myself included) and the size has a general relationship to the effect on the climate in the ammount of land and resources consumed. Do we really want legislation to control every aspect of our lives? I think a better approach is to continue to educate everyone on the cause and effect of our actions and reduce demand for such vehicles at source.
Alan, London UK
These (and other) regulations stifle some elements that have been key factors in our success. I would argue:
1) The pursuit of speed is an essential outlet for human creativity and innovation.
2) By trying to make things faster we have to learn about topics such as effeciency, reliability, aerodynamics (all of which have had a positive impact on fuel consumption!) - This increases our knowledge and keeps us striving
3) Looking beyond the environment, how many people experience some form of happiness on seeing (and hearing) a Ferrari speed by. Is this also important? as an alternatie we could ban emmisions generated by the time wasters in Brussels (travel and hot air).
Why does every debate about driving and cars relate to cutting emissions on petrol and diesel engines? There are currently cars on the market that use battery/petrol for power. Would it be too awkward for the luxury car manufacturers to adopt this technology? I regularly ride a motorbike, which the government also wants to ban due to noise and 'bad driving', even though these machines put out less emissions. As always a small few leave us tarred with the same brush. With hydrogen and battery power technology being available, why are we still using fossil fuels? As far as I can tell the large majority of parliament own a luxury high capacity engined car! If they want the general public to change they should lead by example.
Steve Blackmore, Horsham, UK
It is sadly very rare for people to be able to use the speed and power of these cars on Britain's roads these days. It is certainly inconsiderate to do so. I would rather drive a car at lower speeds, lower emissions and lower cost than most cars currently can. All it really needs is for motorists to plan their journeys better to avoid the need to speed. Its a matter of intelligence versus machismo really.
Anthony Butler, Coventry, UK
We all know every car on the market will allready achieve a speed of over 100 miles an hour, but to be honest what is the point of reducing their top speed to 100 MPH. The national speed limit is only 70 MPH and your average driver will happily drive at 80 MPH on a clear motorway, that is if thay can find a clear motorway. To me the answer lies in severly improving and the public transport system and reducing the high costs to encourage people out of their cars but the tree huggers would not like us ripping up the country side to lay new straight high speed railway lines like Japan and France did.
Surely, you have weight/power equation the wrong way around. Cars have become heavier to comply with new EU regulations and therefore vehicles have had to be more powerful to compensate.
The barmy EU is responsbile for this situation and is now trying to remedy it. You couldn't make it up!
I write this as someone who has just cycled to work.
Gary Gimson, Colchester
As someone who doesn't have a car and isn't remotely interested in them, I think such legislation is wrong-headed. The answer is not banning, it's in taxation. Let people buy beyond-the-limit 4x4s, sports cars, helicopters, whatever they aspire to. But tax them, no doubt heavily, for the privilege, according to carbon and pollution offsetting. But make sure that an equivalent of the amount taxed is actually used for environmental benefit, not for Brussels lunch accounts!
Rob Ainsley, London, UK
I've been banging on about this for years. Why make a car that can do 140 mph - with all the extra energy associated with production, weight and emissions - when for most of it's life it won't get over 40mph?! Let's make some proactive common sense measures voluntarily, or be forced to deal with it later this century when we are in even more trouble regarding oil supplies and the environment.
Ken Evans, Kingston, Surrey.
This is just another attempt at a futile feel-good effort, like turning a television off standby. It doesn't hurt to do it, but neither does it do any real good. If we were serious about reducing carbon emissions (which clearly we are not), the only effective method would be to punitively tax carbon at source. Ie hugely increase the price of fossil fuels, for all forms of transport. A move that is clearly politically not viable.
In the face of American and Chinese dominance of world carbon output, the truth is people don't believe and hence care, that we could make a difference; which is probably correct.
Ben Findlay, Swindon, UK
It sounds like a good idea to limit engine power. It will ensure fossil fuel lasts another 50 years and 3 months instead of just 50 years. Does using up fossil fuel a little more slowely help the environment? It seems to me if the Europeans try really hard equiping ourselves with small, slow cars, we will help keep the Americans running on V8 power for that bit longer, but not much.
I'm glad I lived when I did. I've driven mostly V8's all my life some of them quite exotic. My Dad showed me in the early 60's how a fast car is ultimately safer than something so gutless it can't get you out of trouble.
I remember reading at age 10 in the Eagle comic their predictions for the future automobile - electric, automatic and programmable with your destination "so you could sit back and enjoy the scenery" Ugh I thought then and as the end of my driving career nears I think Ugh now. I,m glad I guzzled as much gas as I did and I pity future generations who'll never know the pleasure of a fast car on a fast rosd.
Robert Wheatley, Wolverhampton UK
I can't understand why we accept the view that it is OK to damage the environment and then try to fix it through taxation. Don't allow the environment to be damaged in the first place - the government should ban the most damaging vehicles and provide incentives for us to buy new, more efficient, cleaner vehicles - job done.
Andrew B, Didcot, UK
Even if you were so gullible as to believe the hype about CO2 and climate change, why would any one consider these moves useful? Human activity represents less than 5% of total annual CO2 emissions - car exhaust fumes are insignificant in CO2 terms.
Even just sitting here breathing I'm generating 1g of CO2 per breath so extending this theory means going to the gym should be taxed as a CO2 producing activity.
Mark Bell, Guildford
What about a mandatory reduction of engine capacity. Does anyone really need something over 2 litres? Probably only commercial vehicles. Easy to monitor the manufacturers - just make new cars over 2 litres illegal.
Andy, Guildford, UK
Limit cars to 101mph?? That's political suicide. What about those of us who travel to places like Germany or the Isle of Man whose laws allow higher speed, or enjoy taking our car on track days at race circuits and airfields. Also cars capable of higher speeds are fitted with much better brakes and safety features etc than slow cars and protect occupants, and driven at legal speeds are much safer than cars with low top speeds. (ie I'd rather crash a Mercedes S Class than a Fiat Panda)
Paul, Isle of Wight
I've been a petrol head for thirty years, have owned about 60 different cars and rebuilt several MG sports cars. I have been or am a member of four different sports car clubs.
We have a Citroen diesel family car, an Alfa Romeo sports saloon and a highly tuned 1969 MGB GT at the moment.
I like to drive quickly (though I do not do so when it is not safe and I do not exceed speed limits in built up areas), and for me a lightweight, fast (and also economical) four cylinder car is much more preferable to a big engined mega-performance car (or 4x4 hulk, which should be limited to 80 mph!).
Nobody needs to exceed 100mph anywhere on the public highway, and despite my 'petrol head' credentials I entirely agree with limiting top speeds, not just for C02 emmissions, but also for safety.
If I really want to drive fast I can book a track day. It's fun, safe and legal, and improves your onroad driving 100%
Richard Hough, Knutsford, Cheshire
Euro cars now put out less CO2 than 10 years ago and I can bet that most people with these toys don't use them on a daily basis. How about looking at the real polluters cows and planes.
Or. How about some honest independent stats about the effect of different types of transport and their CO2 emissions.
Changing european cars isn't going to make a world of difference with 12 litre SUVs driving around the US, cattle ranches the size of Kent and flights at £1.
Alastairwhiteley, United Kingdom
Is it correct to suggest that the increases observed in average car power output over the 1994-2004 period is the reason that car weight has increased? Surely the near standard fittment of electric windows, air-conditioning, central locking and other convienences has been partly responsible along with a drive towards inproving safety by including both passive design features and active devices (ABS air bags etc). Increased power outputs have simply been required to maintain the performance we had become accustomed to in view of this additional weight.
Mark.B, Aberdeen, Scotland
I have long wondered why it is possible to buy cars which can exceed the speed limit (not just exceed it but exceed it by a large margin in many cases). This would be a move in the right direction. I used to think this because of the safety aspect but global warming adds a new dimension. Its another measure of the power of the car lobby that the issue of reducing speed limits hardly seems on the agenda at all. I read that a massive amount of carbon could be saved by reducing the UK motorway speed limit to 60mph. Compared to many measures being considered this would seem to me to be relatively painless.
Humphrey Lean, Reading
I recently traded in my old 2.2 Diesel for a Toyota Prius Hybrid. I get 56 mpg around town and 53 mpg on the motorway (yes, these are the correct figures). Sure, it doesn't do 0-60 quickly and I do 65 mph on the dual carriages and motorways, but interestingly enough I tend to get to my destination not far behind those trying to "get there yesterday".
I don't have a problem with the proposed changes to preserve carbon based fuels (note, I don't refer to global warming as our supposed influence is a load of tosh) but can see the Government increasing fuel taxes to allow for the reduced overall consumption.
Alex C Brown, Milton Keynes, UK
The top speed of cars is irrelevant to the current debate. My daily journey to work is 35 miles - a mix of rural, motorway and town driving.I sometimes use my Skoda Superb 2.5 litre turbo diesel capable of 138mph and otherwise my Skoda Fabia 1.2 litre petrol with a top speed of 101mph. Both return around 42mpg. Why? Because, at 70mph, the big engine is working slowly and economically while the little one is working hard. Which is best?
Norman Taylor, Bethersden, England
I just had an idea, thanks to your post. I was thinking of all those big billboards advertising cars, paid for of course by their manufacturers. But what if the EC itself were to take billboard space, and space in newspapers, to publish some kind of visual league table about which are the most fuel efficient and least polluting cars? I know a number of excellent Information Design companies who could design such a presentation...
Conrad Taylor, London, UK
I'd love to see the 'carbon footprint' of a car race. Not only the F1 races, but all the other races that take place, mostly in our own industrialized nations.
And what about the air shows? Motorbike races? etc..
I'm all in favour of restricting speed, and of banning further construction of over powered cars. But I'm also, if not more, in favour of banning car races, which are an obscene waste of money and pollution!
Myrgen, Nercillac, France
Any scheme aimed at addressing CO2 should encourage good design. Fiat easily met the last round of CO2 emissions targets. Other than perhaps the Multipla, I am sure their cars all exceed 101 mph in top speed. As others have noted here, the enemy is excess weight as well as inefficient design. Perhaps the EU should consider the standards imposed by the Italian government for 4 decades: engine displacement above two liters is taxed heavily. This has turned the Italian automaker into a worldwide expert at producing effective cars with a relatively small carbon footprint. The upper limit on vehicle weight suggested by Mr. Powell is another idea worth considering. Engine displacement and weight limits have historically been used by the major vehicle racing organizers and have merely inspired better designs leading to ever greater performance levels by the competitors.
I wish that my own country were even debating this issue.
Randy Adams, Los Angeles, USA
I agree completely with your article on fast cars.
And I think that there are other marketing elements that could be used for low-emissions vehicles.
Advertising should focus on the peacefulness of a weekend getaway, taking the time to enjoy driving through nature, and the absolute quiet of a hybrid vehicle running silently on its electric motor.
Having recently witnessed a Toyota Prius moving at a fair clip wihtout raising more than a whisper is just as impressive as 0-60 in 4 seconds.
Time for us all to grow up!
Richard, London, UK
Most modern cars are able to reach speeds in excess of 100 mph, this is mostly due not to a requirement for high top speeds but because of increasingly long top gear ratios which are designed to give better economy (lower emissions) at high speed cruising (like on a motorway). Restricting these sorts of cars to 100 mph would make no difference to the emissions as most are never driven at this speed anyway.
Restricting the top speed of cars would not lead to less emissions, just to powerful, inneficient cars with electronically imposed speed limiters or small cars with poor fuel economy in motorway driving (as an example, I currently drive a 1.3 Hyundai Getz, a small, economical car with low emissions around town (~40 mpg), but absolutely hopeless economy (~30 mpg) on motorway driving - the engine is simply not powerful enough to maintain motorway speeds efficiently. In contrast, my previous car was a 2.3 litre turbocharged Saab - very inneficient around town (~20 mpg) but better than the current car on the motorway (~35 mpg). The Hyundai has a top speed of 102 mph, the Saab 150 mph but if I were a regular motorway user I would be putting out 15 % more CO2 by using the supposedly more efficient car).
Ultimately, much more benefit will be gained by reducing the carbon emissions of high volume production cars at normal driving speeds than by removing every exotic sports car from the road permanently (a 1% improvement in economy for the top 10 selling cars in Europe would be better for the environment than stopping production of every car costing over £ 80,000 completely).
Simon Hill, Radcliffe, England
The power of cars is required for any number of everyday reasons: if a car is going to be able to overtake safely at 50mph; or pull a caravan up a hill; or accelerate smartly to 50mph to turn onto a busy fast road; and it is aerodynamically efficient for motorway cruising: then the speed at which the aerodynamic drag and road drag equals engine power (i.e. its maximum speed) will be much more than 101mph. Consumers are used to this level of performance, and their driving skills have developed accordingly.
So assuming that the legislation forbids the use of electronic speed limiters (which would defeat the point and be quickly circumvented), mandating power reductions to meet the 101mph limit, we would effectively be forcing all new cars to have performance similar to heavy lorries. This will be tremendously unpopular for practical drawbacks mentioned above - but there's another side to it that is of fundamental importance in this discussion, yet rarely acknowledged.
Acceleration and speed are fundamentally pleasing sensations to most people. For many people, driving is a very pleasurable part of the daily routine, especially if traffic conditions are good, and the dynamics of a car's performance is central to that. So reducing the performance to that of a heavy lorry will remove that, while adding a substantial measure of anxiety about the inability to perform previously simple manouevres.
This is a substantial reduction in quality of life, and brings it into a much wider debate: to what extent should quality of life be compromised now, to avert the feared risk of environmental damage degrading quality of life in future? I believe that this question is at the heart of the matter. It is the key question facing society over the next few decades, and considered rationally, it should underpin and inform every environmental protection decision we make: yet there is no evidence that legislative organisations have considered it. Legislation that degrades quality of life without well-communicated and rational justification will always be problematic in a democratic society.
Michael Page, Oxford, UK
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