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Walkinshaw hits out over fuel tax

Big wheel: Tom Walkinshaw picks diesel over hybrid.

HSV boss believes governments need to get serious about the environment

1 Jul 2008

TOM Walkinshaw has accused governments of putting revenue-raising ahead of the environment and attacking the automotive industry simply because it is “a soft touch”.

The outspoken automotive entrepreneur and owner of Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) also hit out on the subject of hybrid vehicles, saying that diesel power would be a better alternative if governments stopped hitting it with extra taxes that made it unaffordable for motorists.

“Not just this (Australian) government, but governments throughout the world have to sort themselves out,” Mr Walkinshaw said in Melbourne on a recent visit.

“Are they really serious about cutting down fuel consumption or are they just interested in raising tax? “At the moment, there’s a lot of stuff done under an environmental heading that is just a cloak for increasing tax revenues.

“Diesels will get you a good 30 per cent better fuel consumption, so if they’re interested in cutting down the consumption of fuel, why not make the tax levy on that the same as petrol? But they don’t. They figure they’re going to lose money because diesels get better fuel consumption and they put the tax levy up.

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“It’s not a genuine attempt here to solve the problem and, until there is a genuine attempt, then it’s very difficult to see where it goes.” Although the Walkinshaw Group is developing its own diesel-electric hybrid system for city buses and light commercial delivery vans – as reported by GoAuto last week – Mr Walkinshaw does not think that hybrid technology is the answer to environmental concerns for passenger cars.

“There’s a lot of ‘BS’ at the moment about hybrid cars, but if you actually study the fuel consumption of most of the hybrids out there, it’s worse than a petrol-driven car,” he said.

“It’s a nice marketing thing and the media likes it – it’s a lovely thing to write about and everyone wants to read about it – but if you actually strip it back, it’s complete BS.

“At best, they’re no better than anything else that’s there with a conventional powertrain. In the future, will it be better? Possibly, but at the moment they’re no better and, in a lot of cases, they’re worse.

“(Hybrid producers) are getting all the publicity that they’re doing their bit for the planet and they’re not. We need to be honest if we’re going to fix the problem.” As if criticising hybrid technology is not controversial enough given that General Motors is championing it and even intends to introduce hybrid vehicles in Australia, then GM Holden will also take note of Mr Walkinshaw’s criticism of bio-fuels made from food crops like corn, sugar and beans.

As well as hybrids, GM also sells a lot of E85 ethanol-powered cars around the globe and Holden plans to introduce an ethanol-compatible Commodore in Australia within the next few years.

“I don’t know that cutting down rainforests to plant soya beans to generate fuel is too good for the planet, apart from what it’s doing to food prices,” Mr Walkinshaw said.

“I think we’re in for quite a lot of change over the next two or three years. I don’t think it will take ten years to come. The impact of some of the things that are being implemented at the moment, without a lot of consideration, will come home to roost in the very near future.

“How can you use food to fuel motor cars without causing a problem for people to eat? In poor countries, where are they going to get the food to eat if you’re taking hundreds of millions of acres of food-producing land to produce fuel.

“We could have a whole lot of social unrest coming down the track at a million miles an hour if we’re not careful. I don’t see how you can take a whole lot of food production out of the chain without having a massive social effect.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that was revisited. Maybe that’s not such a clever policy after all.” In relation to HSV, Mr Walkinshaw said that his engineers are working on various ways of improving fuel consumption and the impact on the environment through new technology.

However, he defended the company’s place in the automotive landscape and the right of people to drive something different for pure enjoyment.

“We’re in the business of making quality high-performance motor cars and ... our challenge each time is to make the cars faster, safer and more enjoyable than the one that went before,” said Mr Walkinshaw.

“Are we supposed to stop making big cars or enjoyable cars to drive? If you carry it to the extreme, we’d all be driving around in a golf cart and I don’t think you’d want that.

“I feel quite strongly that there are pressures on everyone at the moment with the cost of living, environment and so forth, but where do you stop it? Is everyone going to go and knock their house down to build a new specially insulated house to cut down the energy absorption? “Where do you stop? Once you start on that and say what’s the carbon footprint of everything, then you just take everything to a silly extreme.

“Obviously we’ve got to be responsible and work on it, but you can’t fix the problems of the world just with the motor car. Industry has a big role to play and governments have a big role to play to clean up everything that’s in the country, not just one little sector, which is the automotive sector.”

Read more:

Walkinshaw's hybrid dream

HSV eyes Euro diesel

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