Which would you suppose is the more environmentally friendly car; a Nissan Leaf or a 1936 V8 Cadillac?
Answer: The Cadillac of course. Actually I could have picked any old classic car, and any new electric, hybrid or up-to-date hi-tech car.
Because the most environmentally friendly car is an OLD car, and the older, the more environmentally friendly it is. Why? I’ll explain: If you buy a new car you have already committed all the pollutants and CO2 involved in its manufacture to the environment, and this includes the heavy equipment used in the mining or recycling of the raw materials, the transportation of these materials to the various processing plants and on to the manufacturers of the components, and on again to the assembly factory. It then includes the transport of the car itself to the dealer and to you. It involves the energy required to process the materials, the lights and heaters and computers in the design offices, and the admin offices and backrooms. It involves the petrol in the cars of the workers and management of all the factories coming in and out of work. It involves the advertising agency workers, the motoring press staff who run the features on it, the testers, and the salespeople, and all the lights and heaters in their offices too. To make a new car involves a lot of people, a lot of processes, a lot of tools and buildings and machines and a lot of energy, much of it coal powered, though not all, and much of it diesel powered, but not all. Of course this can be divided by the number of cars produced, but that’s part of the problem; models change frequently, and last only a short time, so the processes are repeated over and over. The fact that the brake pads for a 2007 something or other won’t fit the 2006 model of the exact same car, even though they look identical and do the same job is testament to this wasteful process.
But, I hear you say, the old Cadillac also had to be built. Yes, but the Cadillac has survived for eighty three years without requiring complete re-manufacturing. If you bought a new Nissan Leaf and crashed it in the first week, requiring it to be scrapped, you can see that all the energy used and pollution created would have been a total waste. Most new cars are scrapped by the time they are ten years old, through uneconomic repairs being required. Many do last a bit longer, but many don’t make it anything like that far. And for one reason or another, usually marketing by the manufacturers, most people who do buy new cars, replace them every three years. The pollution caused by a car’s manufacture is more than the emissions it will produce in an average lifetime. That applies to petrol and diesel cars now, and there will be a similar argument regarding the pollution from batteries from electric cars in time to come.
The longer a car lasts, and therefore doesn’t need to be replaced with a new one, the greater the saving to the environment. Eighty three years is about fifteen to twenty average modern cars’ lives, one after the other. So the older the car the better.
Instead of building new, we should be restoring old. A new car depreciates fast, allowing for quite a budget to spend on keeping an older one in tip top condition instead. Driving economically to save fuel is far less effective in protecting the environment than taking really good care of a car and making it last. But why not do both? The worst thing of all is to scrap one.
So as you can see; the government scrappage scheme did more harm than good. And the manufacturers are still at it; in a few years’ time almost all the millions of cars on the roads today will have disappeared into the scrap yards, and we will be driving ever newer models, be they electric, Hydrogen or something else. (Just as all the cars we knew and loved a few years ago, the Mk 1 Golfs, Peugeot 205s, Ford Escorts etc. have almost all vanished). But what should happen is that the engines and drive-trains of perfectly useable cars be replaced with the new ones. I’m for a 1936 Hydrogen Cadillac, or an electric Morris Minor. Custom car builders, your time has come!
So when you see someone looking smug with their Tesla on charge, be proud if you’ve never bought a new car; you’re the one saving the planet.