It’s now confirmed: From July 1 this year, vehicles emitting more than 75 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide will no longer be eligible for free passage into London’s Congestion Charging (LCC) zone.
Prior to the announcement, the Greener Vehicle and Electric Vehicle discount allowed cars emitting less than 100 g/km of CO2 and meeting Euro 5 emissions regulations into the central zone, without having to pay the 10 per day charge.
The implications of the new rules are wide ranging, with both positive and negative outcomes. But how will it affect you, the customer, and the makers of cleaner cars?
Why 75 g/km?
Transport for London (TfL) has introduced the new limit to combat what it calls the increasing dieselisation of London’s vehicles.
Over the last several years, carmakers have offered an increasing number of diesel vehicles capable of dipping under the 100g/km limit. This limit isn’t just applicable to London of course – it also enables drivers around the UK to claim free road tax, and similar benefits across Europe. Sub-100g/km cars are big business.
However, while diesels emit low CO2, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, they produce much higher oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter than petrol cars – responsible for smog and respiratory diseases.
Large numbers of diesel cars in confined spaces like central London can be a health risk, even if diesels are getting cleaner these days.
While the new rules will kick out several small-engined petrol cars and hybrids, it should reduce the number of diesels in central London. Carmakers are unlikely to build sub-75g diesels, since diesel engines are already expensive to make even at current emissions regulations – and it’ll reach a point where they become uneconomical to sell.
As London driver, you might be worried that your brand new sub-100g car has been a huge waste of money.
That isn’t the case, at least for the time being. Happily, TfL understands that low-CO2 cars are an investment, so has extended a three year sunset period, allowing your current car exemption for the next three years.
This applies until the rules come into force, so if you’ve got your eye on an existing LCC-exempt vehicle, now is the time to buy. The exemption will last until 24 June, 2016.
What do the carmakers think?
We spoke to Toyota about the new emissions regulations.
Companies like Toyota sell several models which meet the existing limits – the Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Prius, Auris Hybrid, Prius+ MPV, some versions of the iQ and Aygo and the Lexus CT 200h all meet the current standards. That means Toyota potentially has a lot to lose when all those models become ineligible. Despite this, Toyota GB isn’t too worried about the new targets.
We agree with the need to set stretching targets for manufacturers to reach as we believe this helps drive both competition and consumer awareness, we were told.
However, they’re grateful for the three-year sunset period, which keeps the market stable while carmakers plan for the lower regulations.
In the meantime, Toyota expects one model to benefit greatly from the new limits – the 134 mpg, 49 g/km Prius Plug-In. With 15 miles of electric range going towards its European combined economy ratings (on which CO2 emissions are based), it’s one of only a handful of vehicles that’ll sneak through the lowered limit unscathed.
With the current Yaris Hybrid managing just 79 g/km, it’s likely that a small revision will bring this model just inside the limit too.
Some believe the new limits unfairly exclude perfectly clean existing vehicles, and the changes may even see a rise in less-clean vehicles entering London.
With all current 75 g/km vehicles priced a fair way above that of the majority of sub-100 g/km vehicles, London drivers may now have little incentive to buy a greener vehicle – and instead buy whatever they want, regardless of emissions.
Eco blogger Ben Rose agrees.
The new rules don’t really encourage people to buy an electric vehicle – the costs outweigh the benefits. You can buy an expensive and compromised car, and avoid the congestion charge, or buy the car you want and pay the charge. It’s a no-brainer for most.
Ben also suggests that ever since the LCC went to an emissions-based limit, it’s failed to encourage people into truly low-emissions vehicles.
Alternative fuel exemption allowed a good choice of vehicles. People who wanted a big SUV could buy a Lexus RX 400h and be exempt. They were commonplace around London for this reason, and one of the least polluting cars in their class.
There is no longer an exempt SUV, so people have switched back to Range Rovers etc, which are considerably more polluting.
He does welcome the new limit’s effects on reducing the number of diesel vehicles, but with electric vehicles still out of reach for many the effect on reducing pollution could be minimal.
And that’s before you consider that most public vehicles in London – taxis and buses, for example – aren’t required to meet the newest, cleanest emissions regulations. Many taxis don’t even meet 2005’s Euro 4 standards, producing ten times the amount of particulate matter of modern diesel vehicles.
The new regulations are hit and miss.
Overall, the LCC has nothing at all to do with congestion and everything to do with taxing vehicles that come into London regardless of their emissions.
It has seen people buy cleaner cars, for sure – Ben Rose cites statistics suggesting the charge influenced the purchase of one in six new cars in London – but the environmental benefits of low-CO2, high-particulate diesels are suspect.
The 75 g/km limits may see a rise in sales of vehicles like the plug-in Prius, Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt, the Renault Zoe and Twizy, and a few others, but the number of truly affordable vehicles meeting the new criteria is low.
Only one thing is really for certain – automakers will find a way to meet the new rules eventually. And hopefully, we’ll all see the benefits.