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Government fuel policy needs more ‘carrot’, less ‘stick’

A storm of controversy erupted in the media recently when proposals emerged that could see drivers of diesel vehicles subjected to surplus tax charges to ‘punish’ them for choosing more polluting models.

The trouble is, thanks to the government’s misguided and confusing motoring tax policy, the many millions of drivers who have opted for diesel cars over the last decade made that choice in good faith.

By setting tax and duty regimes exclusively on the narrow basis of CO2 emissions, policymakers drove car buyers inexorably towards diesel, which performs well for CO2 but vastly less so on potentially more harmful pollutants including particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. In 10 years, according to the Department for Transport, the UK’s diesel population rose from just over seven per cent of the overall vehicle parc to more than one third, with diesel accounting for more than half of today’s new car sales.

Now that flawed policy is coming home to roost. Not a week goes by without more bad news about the UK’s poor air quality, with the government facing significant fines for failing to meet EU pollution limits – not only now but, in certain areas, for many years to come.

Rather than trying to address this by performing an abrupt U-turn and sanctioning motorists who chose what they thought was the ‘green’ option at the time, we’d like to see the government take a more inclusive approach by introducing measures to encourage wider uptake of genuinely cleaner fuels, starting with LPG autogas.

How’s this for a carrot? Let’s see the grants scheme for slow-selling electric vehicles redistributed to include funding for LPG, which will not only stimulate demand for retrofit conversions but could also pressure manufacturers into offering UK motorists the autogas-powered models they sell in their European showrooms. And, until buyers are offered a real choice of alternatives, government should avoid suddenly penalising motorists for driving cars its poorly judged policies previously encouraged them to choose.

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