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New cars for old

vehicle scrap


New cars for old…

One must admire the passion of Union Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari for reforming the transport sector. Issues of road safety and pollution, neglected for long, are receiving welcome, focused attention at his hands.

Gadkari has proposed mandatory scrapping of old vehicles. If implemented well, this will stimulate demand for new vehicles, improve fuel efficiency and result in less consumption of largely imported fuel and, most importantly, reduce pollution, as the old vehicles with obsolete technologies emit more noxious unburnt gases.


Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, in his column in the Sunday Times of India (28 February 2021) points to the shortcomings of the proposed scrappage policy. He reasons that well maintained older vehicles that pass stringent, mandatory emission tests, need not be scrapped. He points to rush for new cars would be limited for the first few months of the policy introduced with incentives/price support for purchase of new cars and will not be sustained. His third reasoning relates to incentivising purchase of such old vehicles in non-metro/large city rural areas which do not suffer the high level of pollution of crowded cities. Another such bizarre suggestion of his relates to encouraging export of such vehicles to other developing countries in Africa and elsewhere which could be attracted by the prospect of owning cars at cheap prices. This argument will conveniently shift the sin of pollution from India to less developed countries. But it will be against the efforts to address the issue of global warming and targeted reduction of carbon/NOx emissions.

Swami mentioned his 17 year-old car at Washington comfortably passing the mandatory pollution tests with flying colours; like the proud owners of vintage cars, he could afford the luxury of owning an old car that is sparingly used. Just look at the cost and problem of getting replacement parts for phased out models and the difficulty of strict enforcement in India with the ‘you-know-who-I-am’ attitudes.

the recycle  balance

In donning the role of a devil’s advocate, Swami has failed to look at several other weighty issues that had transformed vehicle production: in the US, UK and other developed countries there is a good balance of the number of vehicles produced and the number of vehicles scrapped. IE had pointed to the number as 10 million a few years ago. The interesting fact is the recovery of over 90 per cent of materials from the scrapped cars through recycling. This means a large share of steel, aluminum, plastic, rubber… used in new cars flowed from materials recycled from scrapped cars. The impact of this can be seen in developed countries not recording the rate of growth in the production of steel, rubber or tin from newly mined raw materials or produce. UK does likewise scrap annually two million cars and recycles 90 per cent.

This is of great value related to scarcer materials like nickel, titanium, cadmium… which will be required in large quantities for batteries used in electric vehicles.  Remember, the mines required for these rare minerals have already been cornered by a few developed countries and China.

Recover precious metals…

Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT-Madras, an innovator and expert in the electric vehicle manufacture, approaches the battery issue differently from conventional thinking. He reasons that the need is to collect the cells of old batteries and recycle the precious metals.  He suggests an effective and efficient system for collection of used cells and creating facilities for recycling these.

There are two other developments: the first is the switch to electric vehicles; there are estimates that such a switch will be near total by 2030. This will have several important fallouts: the first one relates to the steep fall in demand for the internal combustion engine-based cars that had ruled the roost for over 120 years. The second is the possibility of an accelerated switch from owning vehicles to sharing vehicles leading to better use of vehicle capacity and the third is the imperative to switch to public transportation in cities. Both these are advocated by mobility experts like Dr V Sumantran. All these measures will contribute to reduced emissions.

Welcome attention to ethanol

Another welcome recent trend relates to the encouragement given to the production of ethanol from sugar mills and mixing it with petrol to run vehicles. The effectiveness of this has been well demonstrated by Brazil which has been using ethanol nearly two-thirds as a fuel mix with petrol for powering automobiles. Such an approach will bring twin benefits to India which has emerged the largest producer of sugar in the world: it will drastically reduce vehicle pollution and also reduce dependence on imported crude.

In the light of such dramatic developments and possibilities I do hope Swami, one of the sharpest thinkers on the economy and development issues, would reconsider the bizarre proposal of exporting pollution to less developed countries.

R Thyagarajan, who has built a Rs 100,000 crore plus NBFC, Shriram Transport Finance Company, financing purchase of used commercial vehicles, welcomes the scrappage policy. He believes such a policy will help the new class of entrepreneurs – the hard working truck drivers – to strive continuously to upgrade aged pre-owned vehicles.                                                                                                          – SV

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