The move amounts to a rescue for the domestic motor industry. Manufacturers had feared that the cars would have to be dumped at depressed prices in the next three months or left unsold when the law requiring all new cars to be fitted with catalysts takes effect on 1 January 1993.
Under regulations put out for consultation yesterday by Kenneth Carlisle, Minister for Roads and Traffic, manufacturers will be allowed to register about 160,000 cars without catalytic converters next year. However, industry estimates suggest the number of cars sold without converters will be about 50,000. Britain would then comply with the EC legislation from 1 January 1994.
Catalytic converters cut out emissions of carbon monoxide and hydro carbons - gases which cause urban smog - and nitrogen oxide, which also helps cause the greenhouse effect and acid rain. They cost about pounds 300 to fit.
The problem has arisen because of the depressed state of the British car market. This has left manufacturers and dealers with large numbers of unequipped cars on their hands. Other EC member states are also affected. Belgium has already applied for a similar temporary exemption and France and Italy are expected to follow. Sir Hal Miller, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: 'These measures are needed because the lower-than-expected level of sales in Europe has meant that unsold stocks of non-catalyst cars have accumulated.'
He rejected suggestions that the move would be detrimental to the environment since the cars concerned had already been built and would have been sold anyway. 'The proposals simply allow these cars to be sold over a longer period instead of being unloaded on to a depressed market.'
Not all manufacturers are happy about the exemption. Vauxhall, for instance, has no cars in stock without catalysts and supports the introduction of the new law on 1 January.
New cars sales are down by a third on their level three years ago and are not expected to pass 1.6 million this year.
Fiona Weir, air pollution campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said the decision set 'an appalling precedent'.
The car industry knew 1992 was going to be poor for sales, and it had known for years that European law came into effect from the begining of 1993. 'This sends completely the wrong signal to industry about anticipating higher environmental standards.'Reuse content