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By Robert Rapier on Aug 11, 2007 with no responses

How to Kill the SUV and Save the World

The UK, which already only uses half the per capita energy of the U.S. (See Note 1), is taking aim at the SUV.

As British taxes target gas guzzlers, sales of greener cars double

London mayor Ken Livingstone intends next year to triple the daily toll on driving in the city for gas guzzlers – or “Chelsea tractors” as they are sniffily known – to $50 a day. He also plans to scrap a residents’ exemption, meaning that instead of paying about $350 annually, locals who drive cars over a certain engine size could be hit for $10,000.

“This new charge will try to affect the choices people make in terms of the cars they are buying,” says a spokesman for Mayor Livingstone.

Interesting concept. Penalize people for driving inefficient vehicles. I wonder if it might work?

Indeed, amid a number of current and planned measures targeting gas guzzlers across Britain, sales of environmentally friendlier cars are rising dramatically. Figures provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), an industry association, show that more than 9,500 were sold in the first six months of 2007 – more than for the whole of 2006.

When Carolyn de Pury bought a Mercedes ML320 for her growing family six years ago, it seemed an innocuous beast. Now, however, the growing fixation on climate change – not to mention punitive new taxes and charges on big polluters – are making her think again.

“Even my husband and I, who are full-blown capitalists, feel the pressure of it being an environmentally unfriendly beast,” she says. “Next time it would have to be a car that does everything we want it to, but [is also] environmentally friendly and fuel efficient, in the save-the-world spirit that we are all caught up in.”

The de Purys find themselves at the sharp end of a nascent “buy green” movement in British motoring. Manufacturers say they are struggling in some places to meet demand. Local dealers like Roger Hart say business is booming. At the north London dealership where he heads up Toyota Prius sales, interest in the low-emission hybrid is booming.

“We [sold] 360 cars in March, and 190 were Priuses,” says Mr. Hart. “Interest has grown enormously because of the congestion charge and now also because of things like Westminster not charging for residents parking.

It is my personal belief that it is only a matter of time before the U.S. comes to the realization that punitive measures are needed for curbing energy consumption. Presently, our continued focus is on shirking personal responsibility, and on supply-side solutions. But I don’t believe our (growing) demand-side problem is going to be met with cornucopian supply-side solutions.

Note

1. According to Table E.1c at the EIA (XLS download), total per capita energy consumption for 2004 in the U.S. was 342.7 million BTUs, versus 166.5 million BTUs in the UK. On the low end of the scale, Chad used 0.3 million BTUs per capita. The worldwide average is 70 million BTUs. While I tend to focus a lot on usage in the U.S. due to overall energy consumption, a number of countries had higher per capita consumption, including Canada, Norway, Singapore, Kuwait, Iceland, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.