Charge should inspire innovation

It might be reasonable to assume that if you’ve got 60 grand to spend on a shiny new Porsche, then an extra £25 a day for the pleasure of negotiating 5mph traffic in a vehicle with a top speed of 180mph won’t make that much of a dent in your finances.

But that’s not the way the car’s manufacturer sees it, and the German automaker sparked heated debate this week when it demanded a judicial review of Ken Livingstone’s plans to increase London’s congestion charge from £8 to £25 per day for the most polluting vehicles. The new £25 charge will apply to vehicles that produce more than 225 grams of CO2/km, a category that includes the 911 model and the 4.8 litre Porsche Cayenne.

Based on its experience of running the congestion charge over the last five years, Transport for London (TFL) estimates that once the new fee is introduced about 22,000 high-polluting vehicles a day will be put off entering the charging zone. But Porsche argues that the new charges will have no effect on emissions. This sounds suspiciously like a variation on that tired old refrain which seems to dog any effort to cut emissions: ‘it won’t make much of a difference so why bother?’ This is wrong. Taking vehicles off the road will make a difference, maybe only a small one, but a difference nevertheless. And crucially, with numerous other cities across the UK and Europe thinking seriously about replicating London’s congestion charge, this small effect could soon be amplified. Further into the future, given the global shift of populations towards cities, a worldwide deployment of congestion charging schemes is not beyond the realms of possibility. Then try arguing that congestion charging has no effect on emissions.

In this light, Porsche’s objections are not just environmentally irresponsible, but commercially short-sighted. It’s high time the luxury car market acknowledged which way the wind is blowing and viewed such proposals as a spur for innovation rather than inconvenient threat to the traditional way of doing things. As regular readers of The Engineer will be well aware, a low emissions vehicle doesn’t have to be a cramped shoe-box on wheels with all the performance of a milk float. The technology is there for the likes of Porsche to meet the challenge of the congestion charge head on, not with legal threats, but with inspiring engineering solutions.

Jon Excell