I have been watching with interest as first BMW and Mercedes brought out scrappage schemes followed more recently by Ford and Volkswagen with the claim that the motivation is encouraging you, the customer, to buy a new cleaner car to replace your dirty old car with it's bad old emissions. They'll give you money toward a new "cleaner" car trailing butterflies and petals from its exhaust.
Now I'm all for a reduction in price for new cars to help consumers. I'm all for lower emission vehicles and some new electric cars are truly exciting, but let's not kid ourselves that these schemes are anything other than an attempt to shift new cars. It's certainly not going to cut greenhouse gasses.
Unless manufacturers find a way to lay ickle car eggs that grow organically into bigger cars there is no way a mass manufactured car made the way they are at present could be environmentally more friendly than keeping an older car on the road instead of scrapping it.
New Car Carbon Footprint
Let's look at the process of building a new mass manufactured car.
First there is the design and development of a new car. This used to be a 10 year process but even the most advanced and streamlined development process takes somewhere in the region of 6 years nowadays.
From the relatively low carbon cost of doing initial designs using modern cad systems and the reduction in wasteful trial and error design and testing processes you still have to set up temporary tooling to make prototype cars for real testing and development.
So at this stage sheet steel has to be produced to make the prototype bodies (although some premium manufacturers will use aluminium). Aluminium engine blocks and some other components will be made and some components and most of the interior will be made from plastics, which are ALL by-products of the petroleum industry.
That's the prototypes alone.
With the design signed off the factory that will produce the car has new updated tooling and equipment installed to simplify the production process for the new car. All this equipment is more likely to be designed and shipped in by an outside contractor, while various other parts will be tooled up for by sub contractors around the World.
So far not a single car has been road tested by a magazine or sold to a customer and hundreds of prototypes must be produced to make sure the cars are tested in every possible condition and situation they could possibly face... Quite rightly so.
So let's start production and a massive ramping up of sheet steel production will have a significant increase in the environmental impact of each of the new cars. The more efficient engine will still need to be produced from a molten block of aluminium and the wiring and electronics produced.
Often the engines will be produced in one country and shipped along with the other disparate components to the factory. In the case of the Ford Fiesta (No Ford model is produced in the UK) the factory is in Spain (I think), the engines made in various plants around Europe (Mostly) including Bridgend in Wales where the Diesels are made. To give another Fiesta example the door mirrors are produced in Slovakia and you could go on and on...
So all the components are shipped around the World to the factory which is heated and powered to manufacture the car, which in itself creates a big carbon hit for each undriven car. I think one of the few exceptions is Tesla powering their mega factory from solar power.
Then the finished car is shipped with others around the World there is another carbon hit, topped by a further hit transporting them by rail and/or road to dealers around the country.
Up to this point your "clean" modern car has yet to be driven away from the dealer by you and the carbon hit accumulated before you collect the keys is equivalent to driving a dirty old car car between 10 and 15 years depending how dirty your old car is and how old it is because the longer you keep a car on the road the less of these new car hits the environment has to take!
Food for thought, I'm sure you'd agree. If you go to Enwin's Motors you will see my "car for life" experiment...
...and if you want an even more impressive example this Rochdale Olympic is close to 40 years old. Add up the carbon footprint replacing a car every 3 years makes in comparison and its "dirty" old engine takes on a new perspective.