Fleet Car: Introduction

As a family man, I wondered if Gordon Brown could get his wife plus brood into a Fiat Cinquecento or Renault Twingo as he popped off for his summer hols in Southwold. (He tools around in a chauffeur-driven, armour-plated Jaguar, so he doesn't have to worry about these things.)

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

But the tax onslaught he has unleashed on family cars is one of the many aspects of his behaviour since he came to power that has got right up the nose of Middle (and Northern and Southern) England.

It's all very well suggesting that we should all downsize when it comes to our wheels, but it's also actually quite eco to hang on to your ageing people-carrier. The energy involved in manufacturing a new car is huge and it would be no bad thing as we grapple with global warming to consume a bit less. One thing's for sure, as governments race to save the planet - and tax us on our carbon use ever harder in the process - errors will continue to be made.

The fact that Jeremy Clarkson has described the Toyota Prius as 'god awful ... one of my least favourite cars in the world' might in itself endear the vehicle to many. I can't say I'm a big fan. It certainly is no thing of beauty and it costs upwards of £18k, but its central drawback is that it's an intermediate technology - a sticking plaster on the wound inflicted by the internal combustion engine.

Toyota has had an honest enough crack at solving the problem and has offloaded a million Priuses worldwide, but it isn't the Last Word. Not by a long way. The relative sales success of this model is a reflection on the dinosaur-like nature of the US car industry, a business that still doesn't know what hit it and just carried on churning out Hummers and huge SUVs way after the game was up.

It's now a serious possibility that one of the major American car-makers could go bust. And we Brits have bitter experience of how that feels.

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