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Weighing the likely impact of Clean Air Zones, a guest opinion

Dylan Setterfield, international senior forecast manager at Cap HPI

As major cities across the UK announce their plans for Clean Air Zones (CAZ) it is clear that there is no consistent picture for the motorist or clear impact for the industry.

The original Government framework excluded restrictions on passenger cars. It was for a good reason because the amendments were a result of the ill-informed media frenzy regarding NOx, diesel and passenger cars.

To date only London and Birmingham have included charges for passenger cars.

Leeds is charging commercial vehicles only.

Southampton is awaiting a report on the consultation, but likely to apply similar model to Leeds, although the biggest NOx concentration is around the port and not the city centre itself.

Both Derby and Nottingham have elected not to charge, but instead to focus on other measures to reduce pollution.

Even for those that cities that charge for older passenger cars, Euro 4 has been in place for petrol since 2006 and Euro VI since 2015.

There will be no impact for typical fleet market by the time the CAZs are operational in 2020/21.

According to the BVRLA, 75% of leased cars and 94% of the car rental fleet already meet clean air zone standards.

The leasing industry is also leading the van sector, with only 13% of the UK van fleet being CAZ-compliant, compared to 37% of all leased vans and 56% of the rental van fleet.

The CAZs can be seen as a tax on the poor because you don’t generally choose to drive a 12-year-old petrol vehicle if you can afford anything younger.

There is an argument that the CAZs will have a limited environmental impact and are expensive to set up and administer.

There are far greater environmental benefits to be gained from aftermarket treatments, especially of HGVs. 

All council fleets could lead the way and enforce low emission taxi and bus fleets at the earliest opportunity, which generally bigger impact than passenger cars, or invest in electrified public transport networks such as trams.

Transitional arrangements for large commercial fleet operators who operate in cities such as Leeds and Southampton will be demanded due to long replacement cycles.

Analysts at Cap HPI think that CAZs are unlikely to have any impact on new car sales over and above existing trend of switching from petrol to diesel, especially since all new cars will be compliant.

The trend may increase commercial vehicle registrations as some fleets consider reducing replacement cycles to mitigate new levels of operating cost.

The industry can point to air quality that has been improving significantly over time and would continue to do so without CAZs as new, cleaner vehicles replace older, more polluting vehicles in the parc.

It is clear the road to Zero is already driving consumer change with the rapid growth in electric vehicles and decline in diesel models. The number of electric vehicles on Britain’s roads has leapt 128% since 2015, according to research by Cap HPI

Whether you are a fan of Clean Air Zones or not, they are coming. The good news is that their likely impact on most in the industry is likely to be minimal.

Author: Dylan Setterfield, international senior forecast manager at Cap HPI

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