I attended the 91st dinner of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) last week I have to declare an interest as I was a guest of the Ford Motor Company and it was a slightly odd experience. Not, that is, because of the fine food and drink served at the Park Lane Hilton, nor, indeed, because of the frightening after-dinner speech given by James Woolsey, formerly of the CIA and obsessed with the "malignant" threats facing the West. I know the Wahhabites aren't much fun, but to hear Mr Woolsey talk, it's a wonder how any western businessperson or tourist manages to get out of Saudi Arabia with their hands still attached to their arms.
No, the odd thing was that the main orations of the evening including Mr Woolsey's stressed the advantages, indeed, the imperatives, of a greener world. The outgoing SMMT chief executive, the redoubtable Christopher Macgowan, and the society's equally impressive president Graham Smith, made thoughtful speeches, telling the assembled representatives of the auto trade that they the car men and women of Britain had done far more for the environment than their critics or they themselves were prepared to admit. Car-making is greener than ever, as are the vehicles. What's more, the SMMT's survey of members reveals that 74 per cent of companies acknowledge that carbon dioxide emissions and climate change are the single most important issue for the sector.
All fine. Then, after dinner, I stepped outside to be confronted by the fleets of limousines ready to take the execs back to their home-counties homesteads. Bentleys, S-Class Mercedes, Audi A8s, BMWs. Even a Maybach. To a hostile observer, it might easily give rise to a charge of hypocrisy.
In fact, I think it was just a little thoughtlessness on the part of the industry bosses, as if there were two compartments in their brains. One half of the most important organ in their bodies is telling them that gas guzzling is wrong and that they should do everything they can to make their vehicles more economical and clean, which they do.
The other half glories in speed, luxury and style. Nothing wrong with that. But somehow the cortex that should link these two parts of the auto mind doesn't work. Part of the industry's brain is missing!
There were few concessions to the planet on the journey home from the SMMT shindig; I spotted Sir Stirling Moss's Smart (the personalised number plate gives it away); there were a couple of biofuel Ford C-Maxes (and I'm not just saying that; actually, my Ford host went home on the train) and my own chosen transport, the Daihatsu Copen, comically dinky in such company. But getting into the Copen (door held open by attentive Hilton doorman) I felt that this really was all the car I needed; plus it put a grin on my face, as ever.
However, I remain a little puzzled by the cognitive dissonance I witnessed at the Hilton Park Lane. Next year, I think the SMMT should have a rule; no one turns up or leaves in anything with a CO2 performance worse than 120g/km. It would make quite a story - and a good, green one - for the industry.
Should be interesting.Reuse content