However, our aim was to also provide information for people wishing to make better choices when they bought a car. To that end in 1991 we began researching into providing environmental information on the cars sold in Britain. At that time a car manufacturer might offer the fuel consumption of their vehicles but not much more. We approached all the motor manufacturers that sold cars in Britain for information about their cars. We wanted data such as power output, exhaust gases, noise, use of asbestos and Cadmium, top speeds etc. The response varied. Some manufacturers, for example Honda, were very positive and gave us answers swiftly. Others, in fact the majority, were very reluctant to give any information at all – especially the information relating to CO2 production.
It became clear that if we relied on the motor manufacturers our new Car Buyers Guide would have very little data in it at all. At the time there was no Freedom of Information Act that we could use to get the information we needed. But what we were able to do was to seek information from other countries. America, Austria, Germany and Sweden already had such data but the cars sold in these countries were different from the cars sold in Britain. Cars sold in America were very different from ours but for historical reasons Austria imported many cars from Britain and we could use their data.
Of the vast range of models currently on sale – each model would have many variants – estate, sports, two or four door etc and for many of these variants we had little data. The question was, should we leave those models out? We decided to include all models but where the manufacturers had refused to give information we stated that fact. We also ranked the cars and gave the best performers five stars. By 1992 we had sufficient information to publish our guide – the first of its kind in Britain.
There was a massive response from the media. To our surprise the media was more interested in the worst cars than the best. They sought quotes from Lamborghini – the least environmental car – who said “it just shows how much of a real car the Diablo is”.
There was also a rapid response from the manufacturers. Models that got five stars in our rankings used our guide in their advertising. This dramatically increased the interest in the guide across the motoring press. Manufacturers who had ignored our request for data about their cars now decided that it was best to give the information that we asked for. It still took several more years before all manufacturers supplied the data we needed.
By 2002 we were hosting an annual prize-giving event with a media celebrity as MC.
In doing this work we realised that the method of testing cars was flawed. Instead of test models on a track or test route cars were tested on rolling beds in special locations across Europe in order to offer the best result for the car. Bizarrely a model could be tested in different locations for different aspects of data. It was clear that no driver could reach the performance cited in the data that manufacturers offered for each model.
As cars began to contain integrated circuit chips as management systems we realised that a car could “know” that it was being tested and change its method of operation accordingly. We believed that the temptation to do so was very strong and it was no surprise to us that at least one manufacturer got caught doing it – VW.Please support our cause and Donate