Car Culture: Cheats

A weekly look at all that sucks in car culture, plus some good bits


The UK is out of the EU, to all intents and purposes is now out bar the stamp on the sealing wax, and that means in theory it can ignore international rules reducing noxious emissions from vehicles, and any other safety rule it wants.

All the evidence is, Boris and his gang will employ the age-old tactic of go-slow, so that business and corporate entities don’t see profit margins harmed. That’s the people the Tory party represent, protecting them comes naturally. It’s in their manifesto. I can hear the excuse, “companies need time to adjust’. Attitudes are different among our European friends, or, as English like to gather them into one amorphous lump, in the continent.

New European Union rules came into force on 1 January heavily penalising car makers if average carbon dioxide emissions from the cars they sell “rise above 95g per kilometre”. If car makers exceed that limit, they will have to pay a fine of €95 (about £79) for every gram over the target, multiplied by the total number of cars they sell. Ouch!

For all the glitz and the glamour of cars, their makers remain guilty of the most heinous crimes. Refusing to alter a dangerously designed car with hundreds documented as killed or maimed in accidents, is just one example of big business protecting its arse. Design faults are often covered up to avoid legal claims. The Internet has helped suffering owners discover they are not alone; letters making excuses from the car maker denying liability as a one-off instance are soon discovered to be flimflam.

Here’s an example: BMW brought out out a very good looking sports car, the Z8. But the suspension crowns, the part of the body carcass that sits above the suspension and spring mounts, were found to be too thin to take much stress. In time the crown buckled, and Z8s began to twist out of alignment. The first indication that something was wrong was the bonnet didn’t fit. The value of the car was reduced to nil. BMW denied it was a common fault until the Internet clamour from irate owners proved otherwise. A class action followed, BMW resigned itself to paying out or fixing.

This leaves folk like me, and other buyers, sceptical of the car industry as a pursuer of safe, durable, sustainable vehicles. Readers are aware of the Dieselgate scandal in which Volkswagen and Daimler were shown to have cheated emissions regulations deliberately. What went on behind the scene is as interesting but no surprise. They cooked the books.

Car makers successfully lobbied for a rule that means cars emitting less than 50g of carbon dioxide per kilometre are eligible for so-called super-credits, a controversial policy allowing every electric vehicle sold to count as two cars. That makes it easier for car makers to meet their targets, even if average emissions from their cars are actually higher than the rules stipulate. How politicians fell for that ruse is another matter, but it stinks to high heaven.

For years car makers pretended their vehicles were emission friendly knowing they were killing people, and did so because they were selling like hot cakes. Governments colluded by telling us diesel was the fuel of the future. All that time investment in radical new ideas was set aside for just jazzing up the old to look like the new. Innovation was ditched in preference for profits. Action to clean up emissions was avoided for the same reason.

Now car makers are churning out electric cars. How innovative they are is another question. When considering one you should take great care to study the design to understand if it is far-sighted. If technical details bamboozle you, find somebody – not a dealer – to help you make a decision.

Soon, we will be spoilt for choice. Multiple new electric car models will go on sale just in time to qualify for EU regulations. In November the first of Volkswagen’s ID.3 cars rolled off a new electric production line in Zwickau, eastern Germany. The factory can produce over 300,000 vehicles a year. The first of BMW’s Mini Electric models, made in Oxford, arrive in showrooms in March. Vauxhall, now French owned by France’s PSA Group and new models looking decidedly chic, start production of its Corsa-e in January, with sales to begin in March. That can only mean prices will drop as more come onto the market competing for buyers, same as colour television sets did once upon a time.

Consultants at Deloitte estimate the market will reach a tipping point in 2022, when the cost of ownership of an electric car is on par with its internal combustion engine counterparts. Research by the International Council on Clean Transportation differs, suggesting this is already the case in European countries.

In Scotland, some drivers anxious about the short range of some electric vehicles on a single charge will be put off from buying them until the development of charging infrastructure spreads across the country. However, the reverse of the Dieselgate scandal is that car makers are working hard to meet charge point deadlines hoping to show they really are the good guys. The task is daunting – they are producing more lumbering SUVs than any other model and we prefer them to any other model.

Car makers are under the gun to deliver electric vehicles and an excess of charging points or face massive fines. Boris the Boor will help them survive. In fact, the Tory government gave a grant of £500 million to Jaguar to get on with the job of creating more electric cars. That’s your money, dear taxpayer; that’s action from the political party that avers competition is healthy and the weak can go to the wall.

There’s on upside to all this – car makers across the world are trying to share the vast costs of developing electric vehicles – putting aside often fierce rivalries. Ford and VW have formed a limited alliance, and BMW and Jaguar Land Rover are collaborating on electric vehicle technology. But there’s still far too many manufactures making far too many cars, and a lot of them designed to appeal to human envy and combativeness.


Ghosn gone

The amusing saga of the former bigwig boss of Renault and Nissan, chairman and one tough bastard Carlos Ghosn, continues to pile on the comedy situations. He is reported to have escaped Japanese justice taking a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka’s Kansai airport, whisked through security inside audio equipment – reportedly hidden in a musical instrument case – he’s a small guy so it could have been an accordion box – and boarding a private jet to Turkey and on to Lebanon. He popped up in Beirut to give an animated, incoherent press conference about how he thinks Japanese justice is so terrible it forced him to flee from it. Working for a Japanese company earning millions and allegedly squirrelling away millions more for ‘expenses’ is not poor Japanese justice. In Japan, the accused can be held for 23 days without charge – this is almost indefinitely renewable as judges normally give prosecutors the benefit of the doubt. Not like the UK – where a man who does the world a favour by leaking details of what out government is doing without consent, is dragged out of an embassy by force and incarcerated in a prison cell to die, or be sent to the USA, a show trial, and to die in a cell there.

Back to red

The British car industry suffered twin disappointments in 2019: sales fell to a six-year low and average carbon dioxide emissions increased further well above new regulatory limits. UK car sales fell to about 2.3 million, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, with the industry body blaming Brexit uncertainty and the slump in diesel sales. And still there are British nationalists saying the fall has nothing to do with Brexit. No sir.

From Edinburgh to Davy Jones locker

By the time you read this, I hope I am on my way from Edinburgh to Stromness in Orkney with not one but two cars I sought out and bought for a couple I know. (Yes, I have a second driver.) Smart readers will know that this is not the best time of the year to take the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness; they usually stop running from mid-month to goodness knows when. So, I’ve a brief window to reach my destination, be thanked with a hearty meal, a hug, and fly home again. Gales are forecast. Better take a wet suit, flares and swimming goggles.

Happy motoring!



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2 Responses to Car Culture: Cheats

  1. Great stuff, GB. The writing, not the subject matter, obviously. The righteous indignation and hunger to do things differently in an independent [Republic of] Scotland need to be stoked regularly.
    Here’s an interesting, if somewhat speculative, article which might stoke your own fires for a future article:

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Much obliged, MaBunnet. Will take a gander at the article you recommend. Onward!

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