The RAC has said it’s concerned that incentives for motorists to buy ultra-green cars appear to be fading away – despite research suggesting drivers would support stronger action to reduce vehicle pollution in urban areas.
The plug-in car grant was introduced by the Government in 2011, offering buyers £5,000 off all plug-in cars (electric and hybrid) in a bid to encourage their uptake. The scheme worked – with ultra-low emission vehicles accounting for more 1.2% of all new car registrations in 2015, compared to less than 0.1% in 2011.
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But changes from March 2016 means that many plug-in hybrids, including the popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV as well as the Toyota Prius plug-in and Volkswagen Golf GTE, are only eligible for a £2,500 grant.
That’s because these cars are classed as Category 2 low-emission vehicles, with a ‘zero-emissions’ range between 10 and 69 miles, and CO2 emissions lower than 50g/km.
Category 1 low-emission vehicles – those with a ‘zero-emission’ range of 70 miles and CO2 emissions below 50g/km – will only be eligible for a grant of £4,500. These include the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Toyota Mirai.
Other incentives being lost include a controversial change in Vehicle Excise Duty (VED – car tax) bands from 1 April 2017, announced as part of former Chancellor George Osborne’s summer budget in 2015.
This means all cars which emit any CO2 from their tailpipe, including ultra-low emission plug-in hybrids, will be hit with a flat £140 fee every year. A plug-in hybrid Kia Optima, with CO2 emissions of 37g/km, will be charged the same road tax as a BMW 340i M Sport, which emits 179g/km CO2.
Low-emission cars will save money in the first year’s car tax, but all cars with a list price of more than £40,000 (including ultra-efficient vehicles) will be hit with a £310 charge on top of the regular VED for the first five years.
As a result, a plug-in hybrid Volvo XC90 T8 will cost £450 a year to tax for the first five years – despite emitting just 49g/km CO2.
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Today’s vehicles are the cleanest ever and even the latest diesels, which have come under the spotlight over the last 12 months, emit a tiny fraction of the nitrogen dioxide and particulates compared to previous generations of diesel vehicles.
“We are concerned that some of the incentives to encourage motorists to make the switch from older, less efficient vehicles are fading away.”
Drivers want action to be taken against the dirtiest vehicles
The RAC’s 2016 Reporting on Motoring has discovered that two thirds of motorists want stronger action to be taken to reduce vehicle pollution in areas where air quality is poorest.
Despite this, earlier this month the High Court ruled against the Government over its published plans for tackling poor air quality.
More than half (55%) of motorists surveyed by the RAC said that the dirtiest vehicles entering polluted areas should be hit by charges or banned outright.
Bizley added: “Our research indicates motorists, who are sometimes seen as the enemy when it comes to air quality, actually want to see more done to improve poor air quality that is blighting some local areas – suggesting they want to be part of the solution themselves. But we need a considered and consistent approach to tackling the problem.”