The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has proposed new CO2 emissions-based charging bands for London’s congestion charge. Under the new scheme, cars with the highest CO2 emissions will pay three times more than they do now, and those with the lowest emissions will receive a 100% discount.
If Livingstone’s plans are accepted following consultation, cars with CO2 emissions greater than 225 gCO2/km (equivalent to the new VED band G) will face a congestion charge of £25 per day (the current charge is £8). These vehicles include many high-powered sports cars and expensive luxury vehicles, and some of the so-called ‘Chelsea tractors’. Furthermore, low CO2 emitting vehicles with emissions up to 120 gCO2/km (band A and B), which are also Euro IV vehicles, will receive a 100% congestion charge discount. Whereas under the current scheme, the only vehicles to receive the full Alternative Fuels Discount (AFD) are electric, hybrid and some LPG cars, the new proposals would also allow small conventional petrol and diesel cars into the zone free of charge.
On average, London cars emit around 180 gCO2/km with many band G vehicles emitting more than twice that amount (eg the Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee’s official figures are 381g gCO2/km). If the plans go through, the highest CO2 emitting vehicles will be paying the higher charge by October 2008. Current figures suggest that this will apply to 8% of cars registered in the capital.
According to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders more than 25,000 cars in bands A and B, which emit 120 gCO2/km or less, are registered to London addresses. If approved, the current proposals will lead to these cars driving in and out of central London free of charge as early as February 2008. According to the Vehicle Certification Agency, there are around 70 small petrol and diesel models that will be exempt from the proposed charge if the plans go forward.
The proposed changes to the Congestion Charge are currently out to public consultation until mid-October this year. Already, there has been much debate surrounding Livingstone’s proposals. Some critics, including Angie Bray, the congestion charge spokeswoman for the London Assembly Conservatives, suggest that, in allowing exemptions for so many small cars, the proposed changes may in fact further escalate London’s traffic. Another concern is that, as many band A and B cars are diesel, emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates may increase, even though diesels emit less CO2 than their petrol fuelled equivalents. For these reasons, TfL will review the impacts of the scheme and adapt the charges if necessary.
In gauging public support, The Guardian notes that “polls showed 64% backed the idea of a £25 charge when it was first proposed.” However a poll by WhatCar? found that 77% of respondents were against the proposals, some thinking that they may lead to more purchases of low-emission vehicles and, in consequence, to more congestion within the zone.
In his defence, Livingstone believes his plans will "ensure London is leading the way in the fight against climate change.” With a target to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2025, London’s goal doubles that set by national government. To date, Congestion Charging in central London has cut traffic levels by 22%, cycling has increased by 83% and bus use has risen by 40%. With these impressive shifts already achieved, and if the Mayor’s climate change plans are right, perhaps London’s ‘60% goal’ is not completely out of reach.
Sources: Transport for London, The Guardian, What Car?, Daily Mail, BBC
Toyota is to launch a plug-in hybrid version of the Prius - named the Toyota Plug-in HV, the auto maker is currently testing eight prototypes of the plug-in hybrid in Japan.
Toyota plan to use the same nickel metal hydride battery as in the conventional Prius giving the Plug-in HV a range of 8 miles in electric only mode. The company is also working with Nissan and Mitsubishi to develop next-generation lithium-ion batteries to provide longer range, but are not committing to these battery types at this stage.
Critics of Toyota’s plug-in strategy note the company’s reticence (to date) in developing a plug-in version of the Prius, and highlight the fact that most other plug-in hybrids use higher performing batteries such as lithium-ion, which are believed to be more appropriate for rechargeable plug-in vehicles.
Indeed, a plug-in version of the Prius is already available as an after-market conversion from Amberjac Projects. Using Li-ion batteries, the Amberjac plug-in has a better electric range (20-30 miles) than the Plug-in HV; the improved performance coming at a conversion price of around £10,000.
At this stage Toyota’s is unable to give a launch date of expected price for the new Plug-in HV with Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto stating that "it's difficult to say when plug-in hybrids could be commercialised, since it would depend largely on advances in battery technology." This position contrasts with that of General Motors who have set 2010 as a target for the production of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
Sources: Hybrid Cars, Battery Vehicle Society, Reuters, Toyota TV