Will Your City Authorities Make You Drive a Car Like This?

By Andy Bannister

02.13.2008

With yesterday’s announcement that the cost of driving into London’s congestion charge zone could be as high as £25 ($49) per day for some vehicles, the power of city authorities to dictate what cars we will drive in the future – or whether we will even drive at all – seems more real than ever.

G-Wiz and BMW SUV
Any recent visitors to the UK’s capital city can’t have failed to spot a peculiar little vehicle on the city’s roads, the G-Wiz, a laughable Indian-made electric car which the importer’s website – rather optimistically – now describes as “a London icon”.

To me, London’s icons are Big Ben, Beefeaters at the Tower of London and the city’s black taxi cabs, not these flimsy child’s toys, which were apparently designed in California. Unlike many tiny cars the G-Wiz doesn’t even have the saving grace of looking cute – in fact, it’s rather an eyesore.

For all its obvious drawbacks the G-Wiz rejoices in the title of Britain’s best -selling electric car, although I’ve yet to see one outside London. Provincial cities have so far feared risking the motorists’ wrath by following the capital’s example.

Despite its diminutive size and third-world manufacture it is far from being a cheap transportation option. The G-Wiz costs upwards of £9000 (around $17,500) so is nearly twice the price of some far more comfortable small petrol-engined city cars from budget makes like Perodua and Hyundai.

It is, however, carbon neutral and can travel 48 miles between charging. With a top speed of 50 mph it can easily cope with London’s snail-like traffic pace. It also has some obvious advantages in terms of manoeuvrability and ease of parking – particularly as some London boroughs offer parking discounts.

Whilst heavily promoted in London as the cars responsible motorists should be driving – if they really have to drive at all – these tiny vehicles have been criticised by some politicians and road safety groups as being potentially very unsafe for their occupants. The latest 2008 version of the G-Wiz, however. is claimed to be crash tested.

The company doesn’t have the market to itself. Its main competitor on sale in London is the Mega City from a company called NICE. This is based on a French Aixam microcar, and is slightly more acceptable to look at than a G-Wiz, although even more pricey.

Both G-Wiz and NICE have built sales almost exclusively on the ability of their vehicles to avoid the daily fee levied on cars driving into London’s congestion charge zone for the past few years. In case you’re wondering, a network of number-plate recognition cameras, backed up by draconian fines, means there is no escape from paying.

A range of other competitors are set to muscle in on this increasingly lucrative London niche market for zero-admission, congestion-charge avoidance vehicles. These include the Italian Ellectrica and Maranello models, the Norwegian Think City, and possibly electric versions of more mainstream cars from makes like Smart and Mitsubishi.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s latest plans for a graduated pricing scheme are targeted particularly at owners of what he sneeringly calls “Chelsea tractors” – a nickname for the large and luxurious SUVs which the rich residents of London’s posh Chelsea district are prone to drive. The archetypal Chelsea tractor is the Range Rover, although any number of manufacturers including Jeep, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, VW, Audi, Toyota and Nissan all have products which can be similarly categorised.

These most-polluting vehicles, which fall into the highest Band G category of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions scale, will be clobbered the most in London, as will many MPVs and larger saloons, especially pre-2001 vehicles with engines over 3000cc.

To be fair, Livingstone to some extent has a point – many of these vehicles are hardly ideal city transport particularly as invariably they are seen with just one person at the wheel. With London already one of the most expensive places to live on the planet, however, I can’t see many of these well-heeled 4X4 owners being that worried by the extra cost that they give up their Chelsea tractor any time that soon. The scary question for other motorists, though, is what will the city authorities try next?

City-dwellers around the globe should know that many eyes are on what’s taking place in London. Don’t think this can never happen where you live.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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5 Comments

  1. Gosh, that’s an ugly little car. That thing makes the Smart look like a beauty queen.

  2. I think the future is going to be kind of crappy.

  3. If you (unlike me) are unfortunate enough to live in a city then (to my mind) the present is pretty crappy…let alone the future.

    London has a pretty amazing public transport system especially within the ‘congestion zone’…..so you’d have to have a pretty good reason to want/need to actually drive thru there..

  4. Seano wrote: “London has a pretty amazing public transport system especially within the ‘congestion zone’…..so you’d have to have a pretty good reason to want/need to actually drive thru there..”

    I don’t disagree with you Seano – but the tube ain’t cheap, and can be very crowded during rush hour. The lack or air conditioning on the tube isn’t a great selling point on a muggy July day. That’s just a couple of reasons why many Londoners (and frequent visitors like myself) just bite the bullet and pay to drive into the city center…

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