Marques of Extinction; MOTORING
Byline: Russell Bray
SPECIALIST cars could be driven off the road
within 10 years by the bureaucrats of Brussels.
Small firms making interesting and unusual cars face a deluge of tougher pollution, safety and noise laws and impossible deadlines to meet the new rules.
Companies building fewer than 5,000 cars a year are particularly at risk.
It could mean the end of Aston Martin, Bristol, Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Morgan, Rolls-Royce or TVR.
And it could kill off less well-known names such as Asquith, Bitter, De Tomaso, Caterham, Excalibur, Grinnall, Quantum, Spectre and Venturi.
Even the giant Toyota has succumbed. EC noise and pollution laws have stopped European sales of its sensational twin-turbo [pounds sterling]42,000 Supra and the exciting four-wheel drive Celica GT-4, priced at [pounds sterling]32,000.
Ferrari, despite the backing of the vast Fiat organisation, has had to muffle its latest model, the [pounds sterling]144,000 Ferrari 550 Maranello, to such an extent that one motoring publication said the car sounded like a vacuum cleaner.
But small manufacturers, determined to resist death by legislation, are fighting back. The Coalition of Small Volume Automobile Manufacturers (COSVAM) has been formed to provide an expert professional voice in the corridors of power.
Michael Carmichael, a director of the organisation, is an Oxford-based marketing and research consultant who specialises in political and commercial campaigns.
He says that the small manufacturers are in crisis, under pressure from the economics of low-volume production and the greater threat of government regulations.
He says: `Legislation aimed at the mass-produced family car is threatening to kill off the small specialists. Without the huge resources and lobbying strength of the multinationals, individual manufacturers have little say in the development of vehicle legislation, and the impossible lead times threaten to drive them out of business.
`Everyone wants cleaner and safer cars, but many firms are being dragged towards bankruptcy.'
The EC's Stage Three and Stage Four anti-pollution directives, which affect vehicle design and construction, are due to take effect in 2000 and 2005. But though the car industry has accepted Stage Three, it claims the Stage Four directive will have virtually no impact on vehicle emissions and will not be cost-effective. It says cleaner fuels would be a better and cheaper way to cut pollution.
Roger King is a former Conservative MP for Northfield, Birmingham, where many Rover employees live.
As spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, he claims that 99.9% of new cars' exhaust emissions are now harmless. He says: `Developing the technology to cover the final 0.1% grows ever more costly.'
Across the Atlantic, COSVAM USA was formed in January. It has already persuaded the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to recognise the need for greater flexibility and longer lead times in the application of new laws.
Carmichael says: `Legislation in the US is far worse than in Europe. It has effectively killed off the entire low-volume
industry in North America. Only three small companies - Calloway, Hummer and Vector - are still going.'
COSVAM (Europe) is at Essex House,
137-141 Kings Road, Brentwood, Essex CM14 4EG. Telephone 01277 202552.
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