Former PSA chief, Jacques Calvet, has long
been one of Europe’s most outspoken automotive executives. Talking to this writer during a
Peugeot event last year the sensitive subject of environmentally friendly vehicles arose
and Calvet was extremely forceful in pointing out that no matter how desirable such cars
may be, someone has to bear the cost of developing the necessary technologies.
Car manufacturers have had to cope with
over 14 sets of standards since 1970 and new rules are coming into force all the time. No
one disputes that there are unwelcome side-effects to car ownership, most notably
pollution and congestion. But by pointing the finger at the motor industry the anti-car
lobby is, in effect, just shooting the messenger.
Consumer led tastes
Motor manufacturers produce vehicles to meet demand and if, for example, public taste
swung heavily in the direction of emission-free vehicles then the industry would make them
in large numbers. In reality, however, governments are far happier making money by
increasing fuel costs and taxes than spending it on the sort of infrastructure needed to
make electric cars viable on a large scale.
National governments alone can
significantly influence the economic conditions in which such vehicles could thrive and
only governments have the power to improve public transport systems to discourage car
usage. Until they do it is consumers who pay the price in the shape of higher tolls and
taxes and we should be grateful to Calvet for demanding that visionaries must also think
about how their ideals will be given practical expression.