Why car buyers will be the ones paying for ZEV fines

What an ingenious idea it was to call an airport car park ‘business parking’, as they do at Heathrow.

It’s nearer the terminal than the regular long-stay parking and has small but more frequent shuttles, so it’s more convenient and therefore more expensive.

Yet hundreds of thousands of people flying for work each year will have no qualms about submitting expenses receipts from a facility seemingly designed precisely for them. Imagine if it had been called ‘luxury parking’.

All of those people headed to meetings, site visits and conferences might think twice about using it, because what might the finance department think of a middle-ranking account manager presuming to use a ‘luxury’ facility? ‘Business’ pitches it perfectly: if you’re travelling for work, steer this way.

From a marketing perspective, what one calls things is of course vitally important. But it’s a trick that can be used if not to deceive then at least to add a little vagueness, some sleight of hand, to any manner of things.

As I write (albeit not necessarily as you read, depending on who ticks which boxes this week), it’s the UK government’s intent to fine car manufacturers that don’t sell a sufficient proportion of zero-emission vehicles.

The requirement is 22% ZEVs this year, more in the future, although there is a complex algorithm that allows trading between manufacturers, offsetting against future model introductions and so on. But ultimately the cost is £15,000 for every car on which a manufacturer falls short.

Most mainstream manufacturers say they won’t countenance paying it and are setting up their model ranges to suit, often modifying the number of cars that they will produce or import.

Calling it a fine very much makes it feel like the onus is placed on the manufacturers, that it’s their responsibility to comply.

Clearly, the ZEV mandate will shift the market. But there might be cases where it doesn’t. I’ve heard a couple of rumblings from manufacturers that could consider the fine acceptable. Say one that just about ticks its 22% (or whatever) box but still has demand for certain ICE models.

There is, of course, a way that such cars could be available to you: by becoming up to £15,000 more expensive, to cover the fine, or whatever proportion of it would cause the manufacturer to fall short of the regulations. The manufacturer can’t be reasonably expected to pay it, but for the right car, maybe the customer would.

Given that it’s not the manufacturer that will be paying the extra, then, and was probably never going to be, is it really still a fine on the manufacturer? Because at that point it sounds more like a carbon tax on the customer to me.

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