Car Culture: Cancelling VAT

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


There are lots of topics on transport I want to write about, but for the moment here’s one more on electric cars, the future of car transportation. The Government is being urged to scrap VAT on electric cars after Brexit, making them more affordable for drivers. The Automobile Association (AA) argues getting rid of VAT on the purchase price of electric cars, and also scrapping it on electric vehicle leasing costs, there will be an increase in the uptake of zero-emission vehicles.

There are some necessary statistics in this new story, so bear with me.

The dreaded VAT

While the UK is a member of the EU, the UK Government cannot charge VAT at any rate lower than 15 per cent without the agreement of all other member states.

That obviously applies to Scotland as part of the UK. I am unsure if Scotland should go down that route in any permanent way post-independence. We shall need all the VAT we can earn in the early years, but Scotland needs no obstacle to a clean environment.

The AA surveyed its members. 61% said the Government scrapping VAT on the purchase price of electric cars is an “influential” step in getting them to move away from combustion-engine vehicles, while 28% of respondents from low-income households said it would be “very influential”.

There is always enthusiasm for saving hard earned wages, but what about charging points? Those with the cash and access to a charging point will be the first to buy an electric car. Those living in tenement blocks where parking is at a premium are sure to be the last to follow the environmental route.

Inner city residents need serious urban planning and upheaval to accommodate access, more than charging points placed in lampposts. There are lots of streets where parking is both sides, with some drivers double-parking across wheelie bins hampering access by trucks to empty them for the local recycling plant. Lampposts with EV points, as in Norway’s main cities, are not enough to cope with so many vehicles.

On the other hand, with councillors gleefully announcing plans to ban cars from city centres, except refuse trucks, it’s hardly worth installing charging points there.

Everything depends on the initial cost of buying an electric car, and whether or not the current Government subsidy is cut for a third time. The last cut saw sales slow down.

Youth most likely to buy an EV

Of the AA survey, respondents aged 18-24, a large majority, 74%, said no VAT will encourage them to buy an electric car, making them the age group that is most keen. Youth’s attraction to the new and the novel is a constant. At the other end of the scale, 59%t of over-65’s felt the same way. They tended to be people who have old cars or classic cars. There are a number of experienced petrol-to electric change-over companies popping up to do conversions. (What it does to the value of a classic car is another matter.) Almost any car can be converted to take electricity and remain the same visually on the outside and the inside, bar an exhaust pipe and catalytic converter and what’s under the bonnet.

As ever, the metropolis of London is the most likely to take advantage of such a scheme – almost 70% of folk there the quickest to switch to electric vehicles. In contrast, only 56% of respondents in the north-east of England are tempted, (oddly, where such cars are made) and about 40% in Scotland where petrol engines are needed for the wild terrain.

Interestingly, half of respondents said they would like to see a scrappage scheme introduced to encourage people into electric cars, while 40% supported the idea of removing VAT from EV leasing prices too.

Prices, prices and VED

With electric cars often having a higher purchase price than their petrol or diesel counterparts, the AA also wants to see the premium Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rate for cars worth more than £40,000 scrapped for zero-emission vehicles.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “The UK needs a shock to the system. Eight out of ten drivers say improving air quality is important to them, but they are confused by current policies and, as such, many have stuck with older, polluting cars.

“A combination of the climate change emergency and local councils setting up vastly different Clean Air Zones means drivers feel under pressure to change but can’t, no matter how much they try. With EVs making up just 0.2 per cent of the nation’s cars, there is a long way to go to meet the official target of at least half new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030.”

The AA proposal could help to achieve cleaner air sooner than later. If Boris and his cabinet could get their mind off turning the UK into Neo-Liberal Land for tax avoiding capitalists and back the idea it might be one feather in his empty cap.

That said, the anti-car lobby won’t rest until all cars are banned from city centres, and we all take to bicycles in all weathers, Scotland or not. Can Lycra pollute? Just asking.


Bullit’s Mustang

One of the most famous movie cars – and now the original Bullitt Mustang is also one of the most expensive. The Ford Mustang GT, which Steve McQueen raced around the streets of San Francisco in legendary 1968 cop thriller Bullitt, had never before been offered for sale at auction. It spent most of the past 40 years hidden away in a garage because of mechanical problems. When it crossed the block at Mecum’s sale in Kissimmee, (great name) Florida – pushed on is more accurate – it sparked a frantic bidding war which ended a few minutes later with a record-breaking final bid of $3.4m (£2.6m). It last changed hands for the unprincely sum of $6,000.

New Small Toyota SUV

Having dumped small SUVs for big clumping versions, and watched niche maker Suzuki fill the gap with their small Vitara, Toyota’s European vice-president, Matthew Harrison, promises to produce a small SUV fit for European streets. It “won’t be just a Yaris with body cladding and raised suspension”. Instead, the new car will be “an entirely new and distinctive B-SUV model” with a “compact, dynamic design and a personality of its own”. When you look at our city streets nose-to-tail, bumper-to-bumper with huge SUVs – offsetting the benefits from electric cars – small compact, high riding cars are welcome.

Best car by far

Autocar magazine has announced its Best Car of 2020, and it’s only January. (Autocar’s awards are similar to Hollywood’s Oscars, self-serving, established to sell Autocar magazine.) Anyhow, the surprise is, they’ve chosen an everyman car, the new Ford Puma, which is a kind of medium-sized SUV that isn’t an SUV. Readers might want to check it out for themselves. None are electric, so far. I know very little about it but what I’ve seen is entirely conventional. All I can do is quote the Autocar judges whose reasoning shifts from modest praise to stating the car is ‘outstanding’ with no justification in-between: “The Puma is fun to drive, cleverly packaged and well priced.” Of talk on reliability, durability and quality of dealer servicing there is none.

Happy motoring!



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2 Responses to Car Culture: Cancelling VAT

  1. Very surprised about the Bullitt Mustang GT. Not the sale price but the fact it had languished in such obscurity for four decades.
    My all time favourite car from one of my all time (if not my actual all time) favourite movies.

    Interesting that electric conversions are possible.
    I’m very much attached to my ‘03 Volvo V70 estate but I suppose at 272k Miles the D5 engine is getting on a bit and diesels are getting a bad press.
    Wonder how much a conversion would be and whether this big heavy old car would get a useful range?

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    The companies that do the conversions take the attitude its quicker and environmentally better to convert existing vehicles where body work and interior are in good order than scrap them. So far, I think 120 miles on a 4 hour charge is the lowest mileage on small cars, but over 200 on large. Small equates with the new electric MINI. Storage space is what limits distance.

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