With almost a quarter of global emissions coming from the transport sector, of which passenger vehicles (cars, buses and two-wheelers) account for over half, targeting personal use vehicles – seen as something that only the rich can afford – has been the easiest way for politicians to score brownie points. Thus, the most convenient way to 'address' increasing criticisms of air quality shortcomings is to ban the use of older, 'more polluting' vehicles within city precincts, creating areas of low emissions zones (LEZs). One must admit that this has been rather successful in several Chinese cities where air quality has improved markedly. Similarly, more than 200 European cities are LEZs today.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ruled to make the Delhi or National Capital Region (NCR) an LEZ in 2014, by banning the use of petrol vehicles, which are over 15 years of age, and diesels that are ten-plus. It’s debatable whether air quality has improved, though the Indian automobile industry is happy, as it has helped in selling more vehicles as replacement of the discarded older ones. There has also been talk of making many more of the Indian cities LEZs, given that as many as six out of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in this country.
One impact of the NGT ruling has been the complete ban on the use of vintage and classic cars, except for the occasional event, for which special permission has been taken. The owners of these vehicles have been lobbying with the government for an exception to be made for their vehicles, and on the 25th of November last, the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) issued a notification which privileges the limited use of what they described as 'vintage' vehicles. As is the usual practice, the ministry is expected to wait for a minimum of 30 days for feedback and suggestions before issuing the final notification.
(Kolkata's Statesman Rally too attracts thousands. Courtesy: Prithvi Nath Tagore)
Around a year ago, the MoRTH had issued a similar notification, and “vintage” car enthusiasts, owners and clubs across India had sent in their suggestions and modifications to the proposed regulations, but then nothing happened. A year later, the notification has popped up again, and the rules and restrictions are stricter than ever before. What happened?
Given globalisation, it is a rather common today to follow best practices established elsewhere in the world. Making NCR an LEZ is an idea borrowed from Europe and China. The government’s decision to enact emission and safety norms for vehicles sold in India—the Bharat stage emission Standards (BS VI) regulations—is a copy paste of the Euro 6 norms. This makes a lot of sense, as it allows Indian-made cars meeting Euro 6 norms to be easily exported to Europe (half a million of them in 2019!).
So, why has the government come up with such a retrograde notification regarding vintage cars, contrary to practices elsewhere?
The Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), which is the international federation that unites all enthusiasts of older automobiles, defines a historic vehicle (the preferred term over “vintage”, which defines vehicles made from 1918 to 1930 only) as any car, two-wheeler, commercial vehicle, even buses and tractors, more than 30 years of age. Most of the 70-odd countries which are members of FIVA follow the 30 years cut-off. Yet, the Indian government has defined a vintage as one more than 50 years old.
(As the Mille Miglia rolls through Rome thousands line the streets to see history roll by. Courtesy: 1000 Miglia)
Moreover, MoRTH’s notification also narrows down the usage to static displays at exhibitions, for refuelling and maintenance, and the occasional rally. Whereas most LEZs in Europe have a special provision that allows on an average a once-a-week use of a historic vehicle – the best way to keep an old machine healthy is to take them for a weekly drive.
Paris, which is an LEZ banning the use of cars over 20-years-old between the peak pollution hours of 8am and 8pm every day in the working week (Monday to Friday), for instance, allows for the use of historic vehicles over the weekend, as well as during the night or early morning.
Most of the major economies of the world recognise that historic vehicles represent a significant patrimony. Tourism and its financial considerations are another argument. Across the globe there are innumerable historic vehicle events which bring millions into the coffer of local authorities, hotels, shops, and businesses.
For instance, the Mille Miglia retrospective rally, held usually during May every year across Italy, “attracts hundreds of participants (almost 600 cars), thousands of driving enthusiasts, and millions of spectators (between four and five million) over a thousand miles of the Italian countryside, and generates business worth more than €20 million every year for the locals of Brescia, where the event starts and ends,” explains Dr Francesca Parolin, Director General of 1000 Miglia srl, "it is in many ways a rolling museum for some of the most fascinating of automobiles from our industrial history."
(Millions throng the streets of Italy to watch the historic vehicles pass by during the Mille Miglia. Courtesy: 1000 Miglia)
Over four days, more people get to see this mobile heritage than visit museums in Italy, and more than a third of them are tourists from abroad. There are hundreds of similar events across Europe, the Americas, Japan, Australia, even China (which has very few historic vehicles within the country!). Which is why authorities, on one side, are getting stricter regarding pollution control by creating more LEZs yet protecting and preserving the historic vehicle movement. It would be useful to learn from the rest of the world.
(This is first part of a two-part series)
(Author of several automotive books, founder editor of many leading auto mags, Gautam Sen has also consulted with most of the Indian auto majors. He has also worked with several leading car designers such as Gérard Godfroy, Tom Tjaarda and Marcello Gandini, among others