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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why Britain needs a scrappage scheme rethink


SO THERE’S an election coming up. Among the things I’ll be asking candidates who come a-knocking to pledge their support for is turning the M6 into Britain’s first derestricted, German autobahn-style stretch of motorway and minimum speed limits for Nissan Micra owners.

Joking aside, there is a potentially hot potato anyone with even the vaguest interest in cars should be smearing with butter and getting their teeth into – the prospect of a scrappage scheme being reintroduced.

I’ve spoken to all the political parties about the idea of a cash-for-clunkers programme being reintroduced – essentially, a rerun of the controversial 2009 scheme aimed at boosting new car sales by sending older motors to the crusher. While none of them have openly advocated it, some fairly influential figures, including Boris Johnson and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, have. Nissan has already been piloting its own scheme in Ireland. With the last one sending a third of a million cars to the scrapheap for good, a new one would represent a fairly seismic shift in the nation’s motoring landscape.

I’ve spent plenty of time asking what the implications would be for classic cars caught up in the scheme. Last time around 572 MGs and 45 Jaguar XJSs were taken off the roads, found guilty without trial of being unwanted old bangers.

However, there’s a more practical problem with scrappage. The real villains – at least if you believe Boris Johnson’s rhetoric – are diesel cars more than a decade old, because every time one clackers into life on a cold morning there’s a butterfly effect that eventually leads to a polar bear keeling over. But scrappage doesn’t do nearly enough about these cars.

My Peugeot 306 diesel would have been eligible for the last scrappage scheme, but it survived because the prospect of a £2000 discount on a new car either wasn’t tempting or affordable enough. If I wanted to do a like-for-like upgrade and help the environment by canning the old warhorse and plonking my posterior in an entry-level 308 diesel, even with the two grand knocked it’d still be £14,495 I don’t have.

It’s a nice idea, but the people who drive all those 15-year-old Merc E300Ds and battered old Land Rover Discovery TDis tend not be interested in shelling out thousands of pounds on a new car, so they’ll carry on chugging about and suffocating nearby squirrels.

What whoever introduces at the next scrappage scheme needs is a dose of old fashioned, hang-on-a-minute common sense. There needs to be some Treasury magic to make scrapping a Rover 25 diesel in favour of a brand new car make monetary sense.

More importantly, there needs to be way we can all say scrapping a perfectly good Austin A35 or Jaguar XJ-S in favour of a discounted Kio Rio is absolute madness.

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