Which is Cleaner … Green Car Versus Old Car?

This month’s article is by Tara Gould from We Are All Connected

One of the great assumptions of the modern marketplace is that buying green is best. Spending money on ecologically sound products is a sort of universally applauded given, and one that the auto industry, in particular, has latched onto with tenacity.

As a consequence, the US electric car market nearly doubled in 2013, as all the major automobile manufacturers put their weight behind a product which, for the first time, allowed an industry commonly linked to high emissions, to boast its green credentials.

In Britain, too, the advertising campaigns to encourage different vehicle choices are in full spate. Nick Clegg has been amongst a host of political heavyweights to launch https://www.goultralow.com, a website which purports to contain everything one could want to know of the benefits of pure electric, hybrid or extended range cars. In addition to the website, Go Ultra Low is following on with extensive radio and print advertising, celebrity ambassadors, social media campaigns and fleet partnerships all with the intention of encouraging consumers to favour vehicles that emit 75g of carbon per kilometre or less.

All of this is well and good. Few would dare question the validity of such a noble pursuit as reducing overall carbon emissions in the hope of a cleaner planet for all. But the fact remains that the interests behind all this advertising may not be quite as altruistic as their ads suggest. Go Ultra Low, for example, is supported by the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT),as well as a group of leading car makers such as BMW, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall.

First and foremost, these people are in the business of selling cars. And selling cars may prevent them from publicising the fact that buying a new car, no matter what its credentials, is likely to come with a far greater footprint than hanging on to your old one for a few more years.

As reported by the Guardian in 2010, ‘manufacturing a new car makes as much carbon as driving it.’ Cars are astonishingly hungry consumers of raw materials: ores which have to be mined and smelted, parts and components which have to be fabricated, and immense distances of transportation to bring all these things together in an assembly plant. Add to this the pollution of the automobile companies themselves and you’ve got a carbon footprint that’s both extremely complex to accurately work out, but even at a best guess makes alarming reading.

The long and the short of it is that car production is likely to be a worse pollutant than actually driving the thing. The Guardian suggest that the purchase of a high-end Land Rover Discovery, for example, that’s driven for 100,000 miles, might even be as much as four times higher than the tailpipe emissions of a Citroen C1. As if this wasn’t alarming enough, studies done by the US Department of Energy suggest that green car production may actually require more energy than the old fashioned petrol kind, emitting more greenhouse gases and burning more fossil fuels during the manufacturing process. [source: Burnham et al].

All of this is by no means intended to dissuade consumers from attempting to make choices which are going to benefit the planet. It does however, allow lovers of old cars, in particular, to feel less guilty about all those hours in the garage attempting to keep their beloved vehicles on the road a while longer. And there are also signs of growth for British companies such as Mini Spares and VW Heritage helping keep the old classics in good repair via quality repro parts for classic, vintage and out of production vehicles.

David Ward, MD of VW Heritage, didn’t start his company with saving the planet in mind, but says that the desire to maintain and preserve much loved and well-made machinery strikes to the heart of the genuine car enthusiast:

Classic and vintage VWs were built to last, they might not be perfect, but having survived 30+ years people want to keep hold of them and we want to help them to do that. Classic vehicles are part of everyone’s history; VW Campervans and Beetles have become iconic because so many people have fond memories of them, and for that reason it is something that so many owners cherish.”

To me this kind of attention to detail is a sustainable ethos in itself. If you look after your car well it’ll look after you. And we’re happy to hear that this may actually be an ecological decision after all.

Tara Gould is a writer who promotes ethical business and green living.


© Living Ethically / We Are All Connected November 2014


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