Five more carmakers have launched scrappage schemes as the auto industry tries to kickstart the stuttering UK market by offering thousands of pounds off new, less polluting models.
Renault, Nissan, Toyota and Kia announced deals whereby owners of cars registered before 2010 could save up to £2,000 by trading in their vehicles for a new one.
Volkswagen unveiled a new diesel scrappage scheme, the latest in a series of manufacturers to do so.
The schemes come after faltering new car sales, which have dropped off in the UK after years of growth. They also come amid the threat of renewed action by governments on older, polluting cars – especially following the VW diesel emissions scandal.
The German carmaker has promised discounts of up to £6,000 when buying a new car. Nissan, whose offer is not a scrappage scheme but a swap, is encouraging a switch to electric vehicles such as its UK-built Leaf, offering discounts of up to £2,000 plus the trade-in value of the older vehicle.
Toyota said it was offering up to £4,000 for buyers of a Land Cruiser, adding: “We go to great lengths to make sure [the old] car is scrapped in the greenest possible way, with everything which can possibly be recycled being extracted by experts.”
Ford, BMW, Hyundai, Mercedes and Vauxhall have all announced similar schemes. Most of the trade-ins can be of any brand of car registered before 2010, the date when vehicles have had to comply with Euro V regulations on engine standards and cleanliness. Most of the UK schemes will run until the end of December.
The incentives are to encourage take-up of vehicles with Euro VI standard engines, which the industry claims reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides from diesel in particular – although independent studies have indicated that most modern vehicles emit far higher levels of pollution than advertised. The barrage of announcements coincide with more rigorous, real-world tests being introduced in the UK.
The government has floated the idea of a national scrappage scheme in its clean air strategy, while local authorities and the mayor of London have urged tougher action. Pressure has mounted since the diesel emissions scandal, in which VW was found to be deliberately cheating vehicle emissions tests. Manufacturers have already launched scrappage schemes abroad, with VW offering substantially more, a €10,000 incentive, to German car owners.
Observers welcomed the moves but with some scepticism. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Scrappage schemes are fast becoming the autumn fashion in car showrooms, with no manufacturer wanting to be left behind in either the commercial or PR stakes. There’s no harm in that if the result is a good deal for consumers and a positive impact on emissions.
“The acid test is whether the savings on offer are large enough to make brand new models affordable to people and businesses who might normally buy secondhand.”
Ana Nicholls, automotive analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said the schemes were partly the results of pressure on carmakers to get polluting cars off the road. But, she added: “It is also about getting new customers into showrooms at a time when car sales are subdued – down by 2.2% year on year in the first half of 2017.”
Nicholls said VW and Toyota’s discounts looked to be aiming in particular at customers who usually buy used cars, potentially deflating prices in that market.
Oliver Hayes, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said it seemed clear the motivation behind the schemes was to “boost flagging sales rather than meaningfully tackle air pollution”.
He said: “Encouraging the sale of electric VWs is clearly welcome, but knocking £10,000 off a £32,000 Golf still puts it beyond the reach of many people driving the oldest, most polluting cars that urgently need taking off the roads in order to protect our children from growing up with lungs damaged by air pollution.”
Hayes said the government should roll out a nationwide scrappage scheme, giving more money to people ditching cars altogether for train season tickets or car club membership: “Lowering pollution requires reducing traffic – an aim car companies are never going to pursue if left to their own devices.