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Why Gillard's car fuel-efficiency 'reforms' make no ecological or social sense

Gillard's car fuel-efficiency 'reforms' will hurt the poor and cost natural capital

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's stated intention to remove from our roads vehicles made prior to 1995," which guzzle a lot of petrol and they spew out a lot of pollution," is naive. Instead of reducing our carbon guzzling, it will increase humankind's consumption of non-renewable materials, contrary to its stated purpose.

Touted fuel consumption savings of more modern vehicles will be cancelled out by the carbon and other natural non-renewable resources which the new vehicles will require for their manufacture. Consigned to the scrap-heap as 'old cars' the valuable and non-renewable materials and fuel embodied in the older supposedly less fuel-efficient vehicles will represent a regrettably permanent deficit in our energy and materials accounting for what is known as natural capital.


Cars don't use non-renewable petroleum and spew out carbon gases only when we drive them. To manufacture a car requires the mining, production and processing of masses of steel, iron-ore, coal for smelting metals, petroleum for driving car-manufacturing factory vehicles and engines, petroleum for plastics used for paints and fittings, plus aluminum, glass, rubber, and copper.

Embodied energy in automobiles

Treloar, et al. have estimated the embodied energy in an average automobile in Australia as 0.27 terajoules as one component in an overall analysis of the energy involved in road transportation.[1]" ('Embodied energy' simply refers to the amount of fuel and materials used to produce a car.)

In 2007, for example, the average car contained 2,400 pounds (1,090 kilograms) of steel, and the average pickup truck or SUV used nearly 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) [source: Sherefkin]. Consider that most cars now weigh around 3,000 pounds, and most SUVs weigh around 4,000 pounds (1,810 kilograms) -- that's a lot of steel! (Source:

Trashing thousands of long-lasting cars creates the need to manufacture more cars

The savings in fuel consumption of more modern makes of vehicles are unlikely to be less than the carbon and other natural non-renewable resources used to manufacture the new vehicles, whilst the natural capital used to make the older supposedly less fuel-efficient vehicles will be permanently lost once they are consigned to the scrap heap.

To accomplish their stated (but impossible) goal, the Government intends to give a $2000 rebate to anyone who scraps a pre-1995 car. After receiving this one-off subsidy, second hand buyers are then expected to buy from a pool of retail cars, new and used, minus the scrapped pre-1995 models.

Obviously this situation, if it is allowed to be created, will inflate the price of new and used cars for Australians, in a country where automobiles are notoriously heavily taxed prior to retail.

If the government were really thinking about the future, then they would be trying to conserve fuel and materials for the long run. They are doing the very opposite. We live at a time when fuel and materials are becoming increasingly precious due to the demands of population and consumerism on natural capital, which should be conserved, instead of being mined and smelted for new cars.

Over time, the poorer owners of the older motor vehicles have faced greater difficulty getting them registered due to ever more restrictive vehicle registration regulations. These regulations will make it ever harder for poor people to register their vehicles. It can be harder to have older vehicles meet acceptable standards of roadworthiness as higher standards are imposed and as it becomes harder to replace broken fixtures or engine parts.


[1] (Cited in Wikipedia Treloar, Graham J.; Love, Peter E. D.; Crawford, Robert H. (January/February 2004). "Hybrid Life-Cycle Inventory for Road Construction and Use". Journal of Construction Engineering and Management 130 (1): 43-49. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9364(2004)130:1(43). Retrieved 2010-06-29.

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