Magazine article The Spectator

Get Things Moving

Magazine article The Spectator

Get Things Moving

Article excerpt

With Ford posting losses of over $10 billion, Honda shutting its Swindon factory until June and fields full of unsold cars, we might be excused for thinking that doom and gloom is here to stay. But we shouldn't, and we can start changing it now.

Probably you're not thinking of buying a new car today, but what could change your mind? Price. If Ford or Honda were to offer 50 per cent reductions on cars bought in February, more of us would dare to spend.

And if they offered 0 per cent finance for the same period (like Citroën and Toyota, on selected models), that would help. Most people, after all, are still employed and will remain so, particularly those in our huge public sector.

If such reductions mean manufacturers sell at a loss, it's sustainable in the short term. Money inwards benefits turnover and it's better than selling nothing while maintaining infrastructure in order still to be here when the market eventually picks up. Survival is success, so forget the wider market, create your own. And be bold -- remember it's volume that makes a market.

Of course, this would force second-hand prices down but the ultimate result of that is that older cars are replaced by newer, environmentally friendlier ones and -- again -- money moves and the market is sustained as your old trade-in moves down the food chain. We all lose a bit, we all gain a bit but, while nothing moves, everyone loses.

Meanwhile, the government offers cautious support by guaranteeing loans to help develop greener cars. OK, so far as it goes -- a little may help a little -- but there's no sign of the radical thinking and bold investment that our current troubles should stimulate. Perhaps that's because it would involve killing a few sacred cows.

The first bovine to go should be the assumption that we need fewer cars on the road, rather than more. Cars currently meet about 85 per cent of the UK's travel requirements, railways about 7 per cent and buses 6 per cent. The car predominates because it's convenient, flexible and affordable; it can take us anywhere in privacy and comfort. That's why the number of private cars increased by 5.3 million to 26.5 million in the past decade and why, with governmentencouraged population growth, it's estimated it will be 38 million by 2040. We not only like it but need it -- no modern economy could function without ubiquitous private travel and no democratic government would survive a planned reduction in living standards. Public transport is a realistic alternative only in restricted circumstances -- city centres, commuting and long journeys -- and is necessary for those who don't have access to cars, but it can't work without expensive subsidies, it's inflexible, often uncomfortable and always public. …

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