The reduction was announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in the last budget and hailed as a step forward for greener motoring. Yesterday it was criticised as a "green smoke screen" because fewer than one in 10 drivers in the UK will qualify.
The RAC said rewarding owners of small-engined cars would not necessarily reward greener motorists. A 10-year-old small-engined car produces more emissions than its counterpart today, said the RAC.
The RAC welcomed the Government's intention to reward the drivers of cleaner cars, but was not convinced basing financial incentive on engine size would work.
"Where is the environmental justification for rewarding a possibly badly- maintained, high-mileage old vehicle just because of its engine size and not a larger, newer vehicle with lower emissions?" asked an RAC spokesman Edmund King.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show only 2.2 million of the UK's 25.5 million vehicles fall into the 1,100cc or less category. The RAC said drivers who exceeded the limit by only 100cc or so were "understandably angry" at their exclusion from the reduction.
Mr King said: "Motorists want a fair deal. They understand the environmental concern, but they don't understand the green wool being pulled over their eyes."
Transport Minister Lord Whitty said the Government hopes to introduce a scheme based on emission levels. "Although engine size is a reasonable proxy for fuel efficiency, the Government recognises it is not a totally reliable measure of environmental impact.
"That is why the Chancellor announced the introduction from autumn 2000 of a graduated system for new cars based on their carbon monoxide emissions."
But the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions hopes the incentive will persuade people to switch to smaller-engined cars from petrol-guzzling luxury class.
There is evidence the luxury car market is feeling the squeeze of higher petrol prices, road tax and a fall in demand caused by the financial collapse in Asia.
But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said rich buyers would still endure any tax or petrol price rises because that would add to the exclusivity of owning a top marque.
THE Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traderssaid the five most popular cars with engines under 1,100cc sold in the UK last year were:
1) Nissan Micra: 12,380
2) Vauxhall Corsa: 12,092
3) VW Polo: 3,653
4) Daewoo Matiz: 3,176
5) Toyota Yaris: 2,772Reuse content