Britain's low-carbon future

Published: 25 March 2008

Higher purchase taxes for high emitters, ‘traffic-light style’ tax discs to indicate a vehicle’s environmental friendliness and mandatory dashboard-based driving efficiency technology are just three recommendations from a new report that looks set to inform Government policy for the next decade.

Published on the same day as the Budget, the snappily titled King Review Of Low Carbon Cars Part Two (Recommendations For Action) was lost amid all the hoopla of new tax bands. But now we've had time to scrutinise it, we can assess the proposals that could affect your next car choice, from upfront purchase price to tax and running costs. The Government-commissioned 114-page review offers 40 recommendations covering reducing vehicle emissions, the use of cleaner fuels, consumer choice and research and development.

How will the King Review affect my car choice?

Julia King – report author and former director of advanced engineering at Rolls-Royce – says one of the easiest ways to make the 80 percent CO2 reductions the report says the UK needs to stabilise climate change by 2050 is by choosing more efficient vehicles.

It suggests stronger upfront tax incentives for ‘eco-focused’ vehicles and disincentives for higher-emitting ones, raising awareness on the choices available through better comparative CO2 labelling in car showrooms and cars out on the road plus improved education about eco driving styles.

Chancellor Alistair Darling has already heeded some of the report’s ideas in his first Budget. Road tax rocketing to £950 (from £300) for the first year of any new car that emits 255g/km of CO2 or more from 2010 and reduced road tax for low emitters is one obvious example. But the King report also proposes more radical measures, including name-and-shame tax discs.

Click 'Next' to read moreEco ‘name and shame’ tax discs

Traffic light style tax discs to highlight the environmental status of your vehicle is another King idea. A green tax disc would indicate that your car emits 120g/km of CO2 or less and apply to current road tax bands A and B. An amber disc would be handed to vehicles between 121-185g/km (bands C to E), while red-coloured tax discs would be slapped on any car in band F or above with 186g/km-plus emissions.

King reckons the public shame of a red badge could lead to changes in consumer behaviour in a way current ‘hidden’ eco taxes by themselves don’t. It would also make it clearer which cars were really green-focused. All existing Lexus hybrids – except the GS450h by a whisker – would fall into the ‘red equals bad’ category under such a scheme. The review says a colour-coded scheme would also allow local authorities to more easily enforce future free or dedicated parking for low emission vehicles.
 
Dashboard-based efficient driving gadgetry

Another part of King’s plan is to decide what dashboard-based driving efficiency technology works best at influencing more eco-focused driving behaviour and then push to make such tech – like real-time fuel economy computer displays and optimum gear change indicators – mandatory across Europe.
 
More expensive and complex cars but with better economy

One of King’s broader proposals is to endorse the EU’s proposed 130g/km total new car fleet average target by 2012. Any car maker whose CO2 emissions average by sales is above 130g/km in four years’ time could face heavy fines. King hopes this threat will make manufacturers fit more emission-reducing technology instead – including direct injection, downsized turbocharged engines, stop/start, plus improved aerodynamics and less weight. King estimates fitting such technology would cost £1000-£1500 per car but would pay for itself in fuel savings over 25,000 to 37,500 miles. The report is just a series of recommendations for now, but don’t be surprised if much of it becomes Government policy over the next few years.
 
King Review Part 2 at a glance

 • Proposal to set regular CO2 targets every 7-10 years to ensure car industry can invest in and launch CO2-saving tech with certainty
 • Investigate move to ‘total’ lifecycle CO2 measurement
 • Traffic-light style tax discs to highlight eco choices
 • Make dashboard-based driving efficiency technology mandatory
 • Target 100g/km CO2 fleet car average by 2020

Talking sense? Or political twaddle? Let us know by adding your comments

By Guy Bird

Contributor, cultural curator, design commentator

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