Motorists get £1,000 to buy clean cars

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The Independent Online

Motorists who opt for the latest generation of "green" cars will be rewarded with grants of up to £1,000 from April, as part of a £24m government scheme to combat the environmental damage caused by "gas-guzzlers" such as the popular 4x4 sports utility vehicles.

Motorists who opt for the latest generation of "green" cars will be rewarded with grants of up to £1,000 from April, as part of a £24m government scheme to combat the environmental damage caused by "gas-guzzlers" such as the popular 4x4 sports utility vehicles.

Small cars, including the new "super-minis" from Toyota and Citroën, two-seater Smart cars and the Vauxhall Corsa 1 litre Eco, will all be in line for the subsidies - provided individual vehicles meet strict tests on the amount of pollution they emit.

The initiative is a dramatic development in the campaign to convert motorists to the cause of environmentally friendly cars. Until now, only vehicles using the latest hi-tech engines - such as those running on electricity - could get a grant.

David Jamieson, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Transport, has decided instead that any car which is judged both fuel efficient and "clean" - producing the lowest possible air pollutants - will be eligible. Last year, more than 76,000 cars which could qualify were sold. Officials are still working out exactly how much money different categories of new car will get, but an announcement is expected soon.

The new measures will be followed later this year by the introduction of "energy labels" for all new cars, based on the successful scheme for rating fridges, freezers and washing machines. It will see the most fuel-hungry cars graded "F" and given dark red labels, while the cleanest cars will get a deep green "A" rating.

These initiatives follow Tony Blair's embarrassing admission last month that the UK is set to miss - by a large margin - its voluntary target to cut climate-change gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2012. Rising emissions from cars and lorries are partly to blame, the latest official figures show.

The Government's official adviser, the Energy Savings Trust, fears ministers may miss another target - to make sure that a 10th of all new cars sold by 2012 are ultra-efficient vehicles that emit less than 100g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. This has become a "significant challenge", said Richard Tarboton, a senior trust executive. Last year, just 590 of the 2.5 million cars sold in Britain met that figure.

Ministers were shocked to learn that in 2003, the total emissions from cars bought for private use actually went up for the first time in recent years. It was only the drive by company car and fleet owners to buy fuel-efficient diesel cars that limited the damage.

They hope the new policy will persuade motorists to buy smaller cars and influence car makers to design even cleaner, greener models that will qualify for the new grant.

But they face a dilemma over how strict the pollution tests for diesel-powered cars should be. Faced with mounting evidence that diesel pollutants called particulates cause asthma, cancers and lung diseases, they may set limits that are so strict that no car maker is yet building a diesel engine that would qualify.

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