What proposed diesel taxes will really mean

Until very recently, diesel was the fuel of choice for many motorists and for all the right reasons. Diesel cars tend to be more efficient and economical than petrol equivalents. They produce less carbon dioxide, a gas that until quite recently was apparently responsible for much of the world’s pollution woes. And while diesels usually cost more than petrol cars, they hold their value better, so you get more back come resale time.

Will taxing diesel really cut congestion and pollution?

Will taxing diesel really cut congestion and pollution?

Of course the oily fuel’s suitability remains dependent on the number and type of miles you do. And the increased pump price of diesel allied to improvements in petrol technology is encouraging many drivers to abandon it anyway. Now the hysteria has died down about the news that London’s mayor Boris Johnson wants a new £10 tax for diesel cars to enter new Ultra Low Emission Zones, with cities such as Bristol, Birmingham and Leicester following suit, it’s worth examining what the revelations really mean.

For a start, the penalty will come into place in 2020. But from the start of 2015, every diesel car will have to meet Euro 6 emissions legislation. This caps nitrogen oxide levels – the gas Boris and his regional friends are getting het up about – at 80mg/km, more than 50 per cent down compared to the Euro 5 that cars have had to conform to since 2011.

The result, according to Boris Johnson’s office, is that Euro 6 vehicles will be exempt from any penalty. Nick Reid, head of transformation at Green Flag added: “Euro 6 emissions regulations were drafted to address the concerns over particulates from diesel cars, and the criteria to meet them are tough. So drivers who wish to drive the cleanest diesel possible should ask the manufacturer’s sales staff to confirm whether their potential purchases is Euro 6 compliant.”

With the penalty unlikely to apply to cars that will be five years old and newer, used car price experts agree that residual values are unlikely to be affected. CAP’s Mark Norman told me: “It could have an impact on used prices if other cities follow London but while the capital is big it’s not big enough to hit residual values.” Richard Parkin from Glass’s added: “We don’t think it’ll have an impact. The congestion charge is substantial as it is so if you can afford to pay that on a regular basis, it’s unlikely another £10 will put you off a diesel.”

So the message is clear. If you’ve decided a diesel car ticks your boxes, go for a Euro 6 compliant model and rest easy that Boris’s emissions tax is highly unlikely to affect your investment. And whether the Government will change the car tax structure to penalise the output of nitrogen oxides is a question for another day.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph Cars

Tax disc fiasco

Say goodbye...

Say goodbye…

The annual fiddle of trying to release a mint tax disc from its perforations without tearing it will soon be history. From October onwards, the tax disc is to be replaced by an electronic equivalent. The aim is to abolish administration and cut costs by putting the process online. It sounds sensible, simple and straightforward. But as with most things to do with the DVLA the reality is very different.

The outgoing paper tax disc moves with the vehicle. The new electronic Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) will be non-transferrable; it will ‘belong’ to the vehicle’s owner. When a car is sold, it will no longer be taxed and the previous owner will get a refund. The new owner will thus have to ensure the car is taxed before they drive it away. And this is where things get sticky.

For a start, if a dealer buys a car and wants to run it on the road so that his customers can test drive it, he must use trade plates. If he doesn’t have those he’ll have to tax the car, which, as the new tax system is linked to the V5C log book, means he’ll show up as an owner. “It will instantly add another owner to that car,” said Philip Nothard consumer expert for CAP Automotive.

“The trade is worried about other things too,” he added. “Currently, if a dealer buys a group M (255g/km of CO2-plus) car, having the £500 annual tax built into the sticker price makes that car easier to sell.” The implication is this will have an instant – and undesirable effect on the value of high CO2 vehicles. It’s fine if the Government wants to drive these off the road but it’s hardly fair that it does so by penalising existing owners.

Then there’s the heads DVLA wins, tails we lose issue of remaining tax. Let’s assume Mr Dealer taxes a car for 12 months at the beginning of November. I then buy that car on November 25. My road tax will start from the beginning of November so I’ll have to pay for 12 months but will only get 11 months and a few days’ worth of tax. The dealer meanwhile only gets a refund for 11 months. So the DVLA is being paid twice for a period of time where the car has probably barely been on the road.

Another question mark covers all the cars that are currently sitting on dealer forecourts with valid tax stretching into next year. “As these cars are ‘in trade’ and have no current owners, who does the rebate go to? The dealer or the previous owner?” Nothard asked. It’s a good question. According to the DVLA, if you don’t apply for a refund, that tax will be lost because any new owner will have to re-tax the car. The message is: if you’re selling a car, make sure you take the old tax disc with you.

The DVLA claims making VED entirely electronic will save government around £3m a year and business £7m a year in administration fees. Yet it appears to make the process of buying and selling a car a more costly and inconvenient one. Drivers will be able to buy their tax discs on a monthly basis for a five per cent surcharge, the DVLA counters. That’s looking fairly insignificant as benefits go, considering the potential unwanted aggravation and extra cost it’s introducing to the buying and selling process.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph Cars

How to load a new car with optional extras

Speccing up a car is fun but can be expensive if you get it wrong

Speccing up a car is fun but can be expensive if you get it wrong

Buying a new car is an exciting business. It’s also a very expensive one, and if you choose the wrong options, it can prove even more costly. In an effort to make the right choices when speccing up a new SEAT Leon ST Ecomotive, I sought an expert’s advice.

Prices for this version of the Leon start at £20,485. The Ecomotive model is essentially the mid-range SE specification so it’s already a well-equipped car meaning I should be able to get a car to my liking for minimal extra outlay. Dr Richard Parkin from Glass’s Guide nonetheless warned: “It’s easy to get carried away ticking boxes but you must remember options will generally depreciate faster than the car. If the car is worth 70 per cent of its value new at the end of the first year, the options will be worth much less than that.”

There are however some extras that buck the trend. Dr Parkin explained: “Anything that you can see on the outside such as lowered suspension, DRLs and privacy glass will help add value. Things on the inside tend not to, although navigation does. Used car buyers are increasingly expecting second-hand cars to have sat nav. It’s the same with Bluetooth and USB sockets. They’re becoming ‘must haves’ rather than ‘nice to haves’.”

This connectivity is standard on all models and SEAT is adding further value to people’s cars come resale time by offering all Leon models with free DAB radio, daytime running lights, and satellite navigation, all lumped together in a £1075 Technology Pack.

I should explain that my original intention with the Ecomotive was to create an 85.6mpg motor with the visual appeal of the hot FR version. Privacy glass was £175 but I think worth it to give the Leon more attitude. I also wanted to up the wheel size to 17-inches. However, these particular wheels came off my cunning plan before I’d even put them on. In Ecomotive guise, I discovered, the Leon can only be specified with 16-inch rims.

Still the £375 I saved meant I could be adventurous with paint. The cheap choice of flat red or non-metallic saw me opt for £495 Apollo Blue because it’s neither boring and staid nor sufficiently outrageous to put anyone off. Dr Parkin agreed with being conservative here. “Out-of-the-ordinary ‘lifestyle’ colours should be reserved for top of the range or sporty ‘lifestyle’ models. With more regular cars, you need regular colours to appeal to the mass market and maximise your return on investment.”

According to Dr Parkin, the £150 I spent on the Convenience Pack primarily to add the auto-dimming rear view mirror will enhance its desirability but I won’t recoup that cost at resale. These plus some other little tweaks have bumped the Leon’s cost up to £22,810. Should I feel bad? “When you buy a used car, you invariably compromise by accepting some things that you may not like. With a new car, you can have it exactly as you want,” he reassured me. “Think of it as paying a premium for that privilege.”

Cut the cost of your car insurance

You need cover in case this happens...

You need cover in case this happens…

By law, we must all be insured. But there are proactive steps drivers can take to reduce the cost of cover significantly. Here are a dozen top tips that can help cut your premiums.

Reducing car insurance costs – Pay once
You have a choice how you pay for insurance: annually or monthly. Most insurers charge extra for paying in monthly instalments so paying in a lump sum generally makes cover cheaper.

Reducing car insurance costs – Bump up your excess
Increasing your excess – the first few hundred pounds of any claim that must be paid by the driver – will lower your premium. The assumption on the insurer’s part is that the higher the excess, the more caution a driver will exercise on the road: no one likes to spend their own money should an accident happen.

Reducing car insurance costs – Limit your mileage
The fewer miles drivers travel in a year, the less of a risk they are considered to be. That’s why many insurers will issue a lower premium to drivers travelling fewer miles. If you don’t keep a record, an easy way to know how many miles you drive each year is to check your MOT certificates or the vehicle’s service history book.
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Allroads lead to roam?

Someone at Audi HQ in Ingolstadt plainly wasn’t paying attention during their English lessons. The result is the A6 allroad quattro wears badging without capital letters. In future I will be spelling it properly. Thankfully the engineering department clearly did have their eyes fixed to the blackboard.

All white, all white, it's a big beast

All white, all white, it’s a big beast

The Allroad is a great concept: a regular estate with go-anywhere capability. It’s got off-road equipment like Hill Descent Control. Of course it’s four-wheel drive; and you can raise the ride height courtesy of the air suspension. However, I’m not sure I’d rather have this than a regular SUV if I was going to be spending a lot of time in the muddy stuff. But I won’t be. And nor will the majority of Allroad drivers making it road-biased for a reason, although it’s a big car and you really notice its girth on rural roads.

While Audis are rightly praised for the beauty of their interiors, for me, the engine and transmission are the high point of the A6 Allroad. The creamy 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel has a hefty 428lb ft of torque meaning a remarkably swift 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds. Claimed economy is 44.8mpg on the combined cycle and I’m regularly easing into the early 40s. This gives me hope that when the engine is properly run-in the manufacturer’s estimate will be attainable.

Of course the interior is a work of art. But at night it’s particularly lovely, glowing red and white with digital clarity to its analogue feel. The alcantara suede seats are initially comfortable too. However, they adjust up and down as well as tilting which causes a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between Mrs F and I because I like lots of support under my legs, she doesn’t.

That brings me to the pedals. As with so many cars that are designed to be left-hand drive, in swapping the steering wheel over, the pedals have had to be angled slightly to the left obviously to cater for something in the bowels of the engine compartment. You don’t notice it on short trips. But on longer journeys the very slightly different angle that my legs have to point in relation to my body snuggled into the seat manifests itself in lower back ache. There is an answer: I sit pointing slightly to the left. It feels a bit weird initially but it’s better than back pain.

As with other Audis, it’s got the company’s excellent MMI system to control just about every electronic function on the car. Initially I spent time deliberating over the best setting. But aside from having the engine set to Sport, where gears are held for longer, or Economy where the engine feels like a 1.6, I’ve come to the conclusion that it actually doesn’t make a huge difference so it tends to get left on Auto.

A tech step too far?

A tech step too far?

That said, I haven’t quite got to grips with the MMI Touch electronic ‘pad’. The idea seems straightforward. Instead of using the regular MMI controller to select letters from a list, you trace it on the pad with your finger. That’s fine for me: I’m left handed. It’s not so easy for the majority. Plus I’ve found with letters like Ps and Ms it works satisfactorily. But it does get confused between V and U, 1 and I and 5 and S. That might be my writing, or it might be a technology leap too far.

One thing that definitely isn’t is the Direct Shift Gearbox. It’s seven speed and with all that torque it’s quick to grab its smallest ratio. Thanks to the twin clutches, changes are almost imperceptible. My one complaint is the same person responsible for the car’s name clearly had a hand in calling this S-tronic with a lower case t.

Time to e-Volvo? It’s the Concept Coupe

Volvo’s future starts here in the shape of this slinky Concept Coupe to be displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. But it’s a lot more than just a pretty looking grand tourer designed to evoke memories of the 1960s P1800. It introduces a new way of building cars, a new engine strategy and a glimpse into Volvo’s future design direction.

Now owned by Chinese car maker Geely, Volvo can no longer rely on previous owner Ford to provide the basis for its cars. The result is the new and completely flexible in terms of length, width and height Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). This will spawn two more concept cars before it makes its production debut on the all-new XC90 in autumn 2014. A second scalable architecture will be used for the smaller cars.

The SPA has no capability for larger engines. That’s because the days of eight, six and even five-cylinder Volvos are history. The Concept Coupe still manages a grunty 400bhp and 600Nm of torque courtesy of a two-litre four cylinder petrol engine that is boosted by a turbo charger and super charger along with an electric motor driving the rear axle. Other four cylinders in either diesel or petrol will use turbos to achieve the same power as much larger capacity engines. Expect a 1.5-litre three cylinder spun off the same architecture.

The 1960s P1800 is arguably Volvo’s most famous and desirable model ever. The Concept Coupe features a lot of that car’s design signatures although design director Thomas Ingenlath refutes that this makes the new car retro: “Using elements from the P1800 exterior and interior has nothing to do with being retro. We are using these subtle links to a glorious past to create a future where sheer beauty becomes a recognised part of Volvo’s identity. That journey starts with Concept Coupé.”

The grille is apparently still a work in progress and it’s likely to change before its finished iteration graces the front of the new XC90 next year. However, the sleeker looking bonnet, the way the grille appears to float, the ever increasing size of the ironmark badge, the sharper shoulder line, and the headlights featuring new T-shaped Daytime Running Lights are all design details that will grace future Volvos.

The interior was designed around the large touch screen which works like a regular tablet to control navigation, entertainment and ventilation. The lack of buttons means those that are present have had their quality improved. Each seat features an AUX-IN and USB port and the gear lever is made of crystal glass, which surprisingly is road legal.

Why a concept for a coupe? Is Volvo about to unveil a replacement for its most iconic car ever? Sadly no. But that shouldn’t stop us enjoying the Concept Coupe for what it is, a fine looking car that points the way to an exciting future.

Memories of James Hunt

Never meet your heroes, they say, and ‘they’ could have a point. The reminiscing about James Hunt reminded me of the time I met him. A bit of background first. Niki Lauda’s fiery accident and James Hunt’s subsequent last-gasp dash to the 1976 World Championship is what alerted me to Formula One. I was a Hunt fan, briefly, until I was alerted to Carlos Reutemann. But that’s another story.

BLOG James Hunt2Anyway, fast forward to 1992 and I was working for Autosport. As such I had to host a table at the Autosport Awards ceremony. On that table along with ex-F1 driver and now the late Innes Ireland, there was ex-Williams technical director Patrick Head, scribe Nigel Roebuck and James Hunt. I can’t remember now what Hunt was wearing but I struggle to imagine he was in Black Tie.

As nominal head of the table, I had to organise the collection for charity. And I remember Hunt had the usual racing driver’s long pockets and short arms. In fact when I suggested he might like to contribute, his rebuttal was pretty firm. But then I was blissfully unaware that he was as skint as he apparently was. Nonetheless, it rather took the sheen off the legend for me.

BLOG James HuntA few months later, it was a Tuesday afternoon. Autosport was just closing for press, everything had been written, designed, subbed, and proofed when one of the writers said he’d heard Hunt had had a heart attack. All hands to the pumps. I rang Mark Wilkin who was the producer of BBC Sport’s F1 coverage. He answered the phone after a couple of rings and I could tell instantly from the shock in his voice that the rumours of Hunt’s heart attack were true. In fact, they were worse: Hunt had died. We really earned our money that afternoon, putting together an obituary on the fly and getting a news story about his death researched and in the magazine within hours. It somehow seemed wrong that after racing in one of the sport’s most dangerous eras, he should die at home aged just 45.

Did meeting him ruin the myth? No. But it’s fair to say it tarnished it for a while. Twenty years down the line though and Hunt is still up there with the greats in my mind.


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