Porsche revved up by Livingstone's 'unjust' increase

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The Independent Online

Its top-of-the-range 4x4 will set you back a cool £75,000, but the luxury car maker Porsche yesterday claimed that Ken Livingstone's new £25 congestion charge for gas-guzzling cars was one charge too far.

Warning that the measure, introduced last week in a bid to clamp down on the number of heavily polluting vehicles, could cause an exodus of high-earners from the capital, the German company gave the Mayor of London 14 days to respond to its application for a judicial review of the levy.

Andy Goss, the managing director of Porsche Cars GB, said the new charge would hit thousands of drivers in a wide range of vehicles – not just those abhorred by the green lobby, such as the manufacturer's own top model, the 4.8 litre V8 twin-turbo Cayenne which has become the chariot of choice among Britain's footballers' wives.

"A massive congestion charge increase is quite simply unjust," he said. "Not only is this rise completely unfair to many drivers, but it will also damage London-based businesses of all sizes, and successful people from across the world will start to think twice about basing themselves here if they think they are going to be used as cash cows for City Hall.

"The proposed increase will be bad for London as a whole and will send out the signal that it is not serious about establishing itself as the best place in the world to do business."

Under Mr Livingstone's scheme, a new higher charge will be levied on cars that emit more than 225g of CO2 per kilometre. The new Cayenne, despite boasting a 15 per cent improvement in fuel economy with its latest model, still pumps out 358g per km and does just 19 miles to the gallon.

When the charge comes into force in October, those cars that emit less than 120g per km, such as the Citroë* C1 and the Fiat 500, will join Toyota's Prius in being exempt from paying to drive in the extended congestion zone. Vehicles in between the two bands will continue to pay the existing £8 charge.

Motoring organisations have accused Mr Livingstone of fundamentally changing the nature of the charge from one designed to ease congestion to one aimed at curbing emissions.

The AA president Edmund King said: "Larger families with some people carriers or estate cars will also be hit. These families in London tend to do lower mileage, use public transport more and keep their vehicles longer."

Environmentalists said Porsche's legal challenge was hardly surprising in light of the fact that 44 of its 46 models would be liable for the extra charge.

The Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said that cutting carbon dioxide emissions was an "urgent priority".

"Porsche has founded its business on the promotion and supply of highly polluting vehicles. Along with the rest of the German car industry, they are desperately resisting the strong measures needed to tackle the car industry's contribution to climate change," he said.

"Instead of spending time and energy battling these popular initiatives, such as the congestion charge, it would be more appropriate for Porsche to put its effort into making a new generation of much less polluting vehicles."

A spokesman for Mr Livingstone also criticised the carmaker, describing its legal challenge as a "double attack on Londoners".

"First, Porsche are trying to deprive Londoners of their democratic right to decide in the mayoral election on 1 May whether they want gas-guzzling and polluting cars to drive in London when there is absolutely no need for them to do so.

"Second, they are trying to impose on all Londoners unnecessary levels of pollution and greenhouse gases by a tiny minority. No one is allowed to throw their rubbish in the street, and Porsche should not be allowed to impose gas-guzzling, polluting, cars on Londoners who do not want them."

Blake Ludwig, campaigns director for the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, said Londoners were with the mayor and against the "Chelsea tractors". He said: "We know from the enormous amount of support for our campaign, and from our own surveys, that charging the most polluting cars a higher congestion charge is already very popular with the public."