New pressure group is tackling the authorities head on
How the trade at the heart of the £18bn classic car industry is using its voice to defend classic car lovers from the unintended consequences of legislation
Words - Mark McArthur-Christie for Octane Magazine February 2022
HCVA chief exec Garry Wilson is leading the charge in championing the cause of the classic vehicle industry in the lobbies and chambers of Westminster, to help ensure legislation doesn’t unintentionally threaten the hobby – and its economic contribution
IN ONLY SIX MONTHS since Octane reported the foundation of a new organisation to represent the classic car industry and owners (issue 218), the Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance says it is making immediate and significant progress. Set up by Eagle E-types’ Henry Pearman among others, the HCVA was not intended to rival or replace the Federation of British Historical Vehicle Clubs, which has been lobbying Government since its inception in 1988, but instead to complement it, representing more of the ‘trade’ element of the £18billion industry.
Both bodies share the basic mantra that their role is to prevent any legislation that will hinder people having unrestricted use of their classic cars on British roads, the cornerstone upon which the whole movement is built. There are many other areas of concern, however, including a raft of recent legislation that could have seriously damaged the hobby had exemptions not been secured. These include low- and ultra-low emissions zones, laws against modified vehicles, roadspace ‘reallocation’ and the current uncertainty over fuels. Though none of this legislation was directly aimed at historic vehicles, it is inevitable that many would have been caught in its net and the HCVA sees itself as crucial in spotting and eliminating any threats long before they make it onto the statute books. The old saw has never been more apt: ‘Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.’
The HCVA’s newly appointed chief executive, Garry Wilson, told Octane that the organisation needed to be ruthless when deciding which areas it would dedicate its time and resources to. He said: ‘Trying to push back against legislation in its entirety – to be King Canute – doesn’t help at all. Yes, we’re an £18.3bn-turnover sector, yet in the grand scheme of things, for the Government that’s big, but it’s not huge. So our objective is to ensure that we’re not hit by the unintended consequences of legislation. Our job is to ensure that when legislation is being considered in any way, shape or form, Government stands back and asks “What does this mean for the classic vehicle sector?”
One of the biggest challenges is getting the Government to understand – and to acknowledge in its thinking – the sheer scale of the classic car world and its importance to the UK economy. As Wilson adds: ‘I met someone senior from the Department for Business shortly after I took this role. I said “We’ve not met, here’s my business card. I represent an 18.3-billion-pound-turnover sector.” His response was “I’ve never really come across you, yet you’re twice the size of motorsport! We need to be talking to you.” So that’s a real step forward. At least we’re in the discussion now.’
But now The HCVA is being listened to, what is it saying and what results is it getting? Well, the Department for Transport has recently issued its consultation Future of Transport Regulatory Review: Modernising Vehicle Standards. While the anodyne title sounds less interesting than watching sump oil drain, it’s a good example of Wilson’s ‘unintended consequences’ in action.
‘ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IS GETTING THE GOVERNMENT TO UNDERSTAND THE SHEER SCALE OF THE CLASSIC CAR WORLD’
The consultation explains that the DfT wants to create ‘new offences for tampering with a system, part or component of a vehicle intended or adapted to be used on a road’, as well as making it illegal to advertise services or products that would allow owners to ‘tamper’ with their vehicles. Ostensibly intended to cover emission control systems, the consultation seems to have been developed with an eye on mandatory speed limiters in new cars next year, as well as the introduction
of satellite road-user charging technology. Whatever the intent of the officials who’ve drawn it up, its wording is currently so broad as to catch anything from swapping Webers for SUs to fitting a stainless steel exhaust. After lobbying from the HCVA to take historics into account, Trudy Harrison, the Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, has now said in the House of Commons that the legislation is not intended to impact the classic car sector.
But the battle is far from over, even with this consultation. Says Wilson: ‘We’ve identified that, even if classics are exempted and the legislation goes through as it is, there’s nothing that says politicians can’t use it to bring in secondary legislation. A future Secretary of State, without going back to Parliament, could implement restrictions that impact classics. So we’ve asked that it has to go back to Parliament if there’s a modification. We don’t know if that will go through, but that’s our role: to be there and put the case for classics.’
Other fronts on which the HCVA is fighting include constantly monitoring emissions and environmental regulations and presenting the argument that, although historic vehicles are comparatively heavy polluters, any curbs should account for how small a percentage of the UK’s fleet they make up and the fact that most cover low annual mileages.
Wilson mentions the research the HCVA has produced with the Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation, HERO, which shows the average classic car emits just 563kg of CO2 in a year. That’s around half of what you’d generate using a computer or a mobile phone for a year, or taking a week’s holiday in the Mediterranean. And it’s a sixth of the impact of using a modern car regularly. Practically, the HCVA has launched a ‘simple to use’ carbon offsetting scheme for the classic sector, alongside Team NET-HERO.
As well as jamming a foot in the door at Whitehall, HCVA has been hassling Swansea about the obstacles for small firms importing classics, particularly when it comes to post- Brexit bureaucracy. ‘Before Brexit you could fill in a simple document, you didn’t have to put down a bond, and you’d be able to import up to three vehicles a year to a maximum value of £100,000,’ says Wilson. ‘Now the paperwork is way more complex and you need to put down a bond. But it’s no good us banging the table; we need to understand what the increased incremental turnover for UK business would be as a consequence of simplifying the process. What we need to do is say “If we made it easier for small firms to bring in three cars a year, turnover would go up by £X.”’
This has come about from the HCVA being one of the founders of a new working group established with the DVLA: The Historic and Classic Vehicle User Group. This is a way of getting representatives of key lobbying groups, such as the RAC, as well as classic membership groups such as the FBHVC and AOCNI, in front of the DVLA to put the case for classics.
The HCVA says it is very much focusing on what’s achievable, what’s practical and what’s likely to get politicians’ attention. ‘The best way to approach the Department for International Trade or the Department for Business is to say, “Do you realise X is a real challenge for the industry?” That gives us scope to explain what the challenge is and what is the benefit to the UK of overcoming it, and then you’ve got a discussion point. You can get that taken up by ministers and it becomes “Look, we’ve just increased the value of the classic car sector by, say, £50 million turnover a year, which is going to be putting a few million into the exchequer, with more jobs, too.”’
It is not only about numbers. The HCVA emphasises the benefits to mental health and wellbeing of being part of the classic car community, plus the historical and cultural importance of the cars themselves.
Whatever has been achieved so far, the next 12 months are crucial to the HCVA. As well as trying to grow its membership, it plans to test classics to current emission standards in order to demonstrate that, while they may not meet them 100%, they’re not as far off as many assume. It will also carry out development on synthetic fuels with classic vehicles.
Whatever the cause, the approach will remain civil and educational rather than confrontational. Wilson concludes: ‘There’s no point in going in and just saying to politicians and officials “You’re wrong” and telling everyone what to do. We’re trying to understand their motivations, their pressures, and making sure they have all the facts. Then, when they have a discussion, it’s informed and they understand the benefits and the opportunities of classic vehicles.’