Opinion: Scrappage – why we must not make the same mistakes again

  • Scrappage may come back to help stimulate the UK car market
  • This time around it could be used to help stimulate EV sales
  • Parkers Editor Keith Adams has one wish – not to make the same mistakes as last time

2009 Scrappage saw a lot of classic cars fall victim to the scheme

The return of a government-backed car scrappage scheme is looking highly likely given the painful drop in new car sales that the industry has suffered in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Severe social restrictions left dealers closed and buyers unable to go out to buy new cars – which has led to devastation across the industry.

We've been following the slump in new car sales, and the numbers make sobering reading. In April, they were down 97% compared with last year, while in May, when some carmakers' online operations started to take-off, there was a bit of a lift. But not enough to avoid an 89% drop in overall sales. It gets worse – continuing social restrictions are set to last into the summer, and although dealers are now open for business, buyers may still be shy about getting out there and signing on the dotted line.

Clearly something needs to be done. Across all sectors of industry, government bailout packages are being rolled out to help keep the wheels of commerce turning while damaged buyer confidence returns. The car industry's UK shop window, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is already in discussions with the government, so we can expect to see an aid package being rolled out very soon. It needs to happen to keep the factories in business, the dealers open, and safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs.

More focus on electric cars now

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) period of restrictions, traffic levels dropped by more than 50% at its height, and many of us have seen the air quality in our towns and cities improve markedly. That alone seems to have increased interest in electric cars – and although the Top 10 bestsellers list has had some freakishly low numbers, it's been interesting to see the Tesla Model 3 as the UK's number one. Now, it would seem, is a good time to ensure that any new scrappage scheme introduced should be used to geared towards further stimulating sales of electric cars.

Getting older diesel-powered cars off the road is clearly a priority. I hope that the scrappage allowances are geared towards giving more to those trading Euro 4 and older diesels – we've all seen them chucking out black smoke – in order to improve air quality in built-up areas. Offer owners of diesels more for their cars and further extensions of the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG), and a world of electric cars awaits.

But I have concerns, and I hope the industry and legislators learn from their mistakes. Back in 2009, in order to kickstart the car market, which has been damaged by the aftermath of the global banking crisis, it launched the car scrappage scheme. All new car sales could be subsidised to tune of £1,000 (which the manufacturers matched to bring it up to £2,000 in total), if an old car was traded-in.

2009 scheme took 390,000 old cars off the road

2009 scrappage scheme

The original scheme vowed to remove all cars part-exchanged on the scheme from the roads by ensuring they were marked as scrapped. All well and good. Except that what transpired was that many of the cars chopped in were still in fine fettle, with years of useful life ahead of them. Others were already considered classic cars, and as such, deprived the industry that supports them with potential new repair and running income.

Most criminally, the 2009 scrappage scheme saw these cars parked up in airfields across the land and left to moulder. They weren't recycled. They weren't torn down for parts, and worse than that – they weren't even destroyed on environmental grounds. In short, the 2009 scheme removed 390,000 cars off the road without offering the opportunity for them to be reused in any way, shape or form.

For the 2020 scrappage scheme, I make a few heartfelt pleas to the car industry and manufacturers alike. The main one being, don't make the same mistakes as before. We must not arbitrarily scrap all the traded-in cars on environmental grounds – many older cars make a minimal impact in terms of pollution, and many drivers still need a supply of older, cheaper secondhand motors to keep them mobile.

In 2020 will the traded-in cars be available for recycling?

So I just ask the following...

► Please consider this a guaranteed trade-in value rather than a scrappage scheme.

► Please incentivise scrappage for older diesels over and above perfectly usable petrol-powered cars.

► Please offer currently MoT'd petrol cars for resale – why deprive used-car buyers a potential source of perfectly good cars?

► Please consider the classic car movement – although classics account for less than 2% of all cars on the roads, their owners and the £7bn+ industry that supports them are hugely important. Make sure all cars older than 25 years of age are offered out for resale...

► ...and If you're going to scrap cars, make sure they are ones traded in without MoTs, and make sure that they are available to be used for parts to help keep other cars on the roads.

Thanks for reading, and if you agree or disagree with me, drop us a comment on the Parkers Facebook page, or let us know by email – feedback@parkers.co.uk.