Mr. Henry Sturmey on the Petrol Tax.
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The more one sees and hears in regard to the proposed petrol tax, the more absolutely imperative does it appear that the tax must be removed entirely from the commercial vehicle—or a. very serious blow will be given to the industry—and that no effort must be spared by both users and manufacturers to secure this end. I need not go elaborately into details with regard to the incidence of the tax. The Editor has already dealt fully with that, and has shown what it means to the motorbus companies at any rate, and that, when the rapidly-increasing competition in the motorcab trade begins to be felt in its entirety, it will make all the difference between profit and loss to these companies in London, if not generally. So far as the user of a trade van is concerned, whilst the addition of the tax to his running expenses will not " bankrupt " him, it will, of course, reduce the margin of profitable working as compared with horses. So far as the manufacturer is concerned, however, the tax is really serious and mainly for this reason that, although the cost of fuel is not the whole, or even the main cost of running a car, the inexperienced public think it is, and so the fact of its taxation by some 30 per cent. of its value acts as a strong deterrent to the purchasing of new vans. As an illustration of how strong this deterrent is, I may mention that practically every firm in the trade—most probably every firm, but I haven't heard from all—has had business " turned down " since the introduction of the Budget, definitely on account of the tax, and that the proposals of the Chancellor have had a very disastrous effect upon business is also shown by the almost absolute cessation of new enquiries, which have fallen oft to my own knowledge in some cases between 80-90 per cent, since the night of the Budget speech! It must be remembered that, in this respect, the trade in commercial vehicles differs essentially and totally from that in pleasure cars. The man who buys a commercial vehicle doesn't do it for the fun of the thing. It is a hard cornmercial proposition with him, and he has to convince himself positively that he is going to obtain some tangible E s. d. advantage by its use, before he will give up his horses, and it is, in the majority of cases, a very difficult thing to prove this gain to him. On the other hand, with the pleasure-car buyer, the E s. d. of the matter does not enter so largely into consideration. With a car, he can do what is impossible with any horse (or number of horses) ever bred, and he likes the idea that it will enable him to do what he never attempted or thought of before. It will be readily conceded that, to a man who pays £1,000 for a car and spends E4,00 or £500 a year on running it, largely for the convenience and fun of the thing, another E1.0 on the petrol bill is not a very important matter.
If pleasure-car buyers bought cars only to do that work which they previously did with horses, and concerned themselves critically as to whether the one method of conveyance or the other were the more expensive, the pleasure-car trade would not occupy the important position in the industries of the country which it does to-day. When this is remembered, and it is noted that speed is a great factor in the enjoyment of a car with most users. and that speed cannot be comfortably made upon roads that are otherwise than good, it is not difficult to understand how it is that the pleasure-car users and the bodies which represent them have told Mr. Lloyd-George that they do not mind being taxed, if only he will give them better roads. But it is equally certain to anyone conversant with the facts, that these sentiments do not represent the views either of the users or the makers of commercial vehicles, and it seems to me that it would be a great mistake for either of them to leave their interests in the hands of the pleasure-car organisations, so far as representations to the Chancellor are concerned. These bodies neither understand the conditions which surround, nor do they care very much about, the commercial vehicle. They have no real interest in it and, moreover, are all fighting for their own hands. Our interests in this matter are not altogether identical. Nay, in some respects, they are antagonistic, and even the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is no exception here.
The Society has, I believe, arranged for a deputation to wait on Mr. Lloyd-George, concerning the whole question of motor taxation, but I do not think we can look for much help here, so far as our particular interests are concerned. The pleasure-ear makers in the Society outnumber the commercial-vehicle builders by ten to one, and it is hardly to be expected that " our end " will receive much consideration, if it is in any way deemed antagonistic to the other, and I have, indeed, heard one well-known pleasure-car maker express the view that,if the petrol tax is entirely removed from the commercial vehicle, it must necessarily mean that what is taken off the van will be added to the burden the car will have to carry, and, if this view is at all general amongst pleasure-car makers upon the Society, the interests of the commercial vehicle are likely to receive but scant consideration. On that account, I don't think we can expect very much help from the Society.
A fortnight since, a hurriedly-called meeting of commercial-vehicle makers sent a deputation to the Management Committee of the Society to request, amongst other things, that the users of commercial vehicles should be represented on the deputation to the Chancellor which the Society is organising, but the opinion was expressed that it would be better for the users to be represented by their own organisation, i.e., I suppose, by the Commercial Motor Users' Association, and, as I believe that body is now organising a deputation on its own account, I think, in view of the very problematical support we are likely to get from the Society, that the makers of commercial vehicles should unite with the Users' Association, and go hand in hand with their customers in a united request that this most-unjust impost should be withdrawn so far as we are concerned. In using the word " unjust " in this connection, I do it advisedly, for it is unjust to tax only one out of several methods of transportation, which are all in competition with one another, and to tax carts, wagons arid omnibuses using petrol motors, without also taxing those using steam, electricity or horses. Should the course I now propose be followed, the deputation must be prepared, I think, with suggestions for an alternative method of " raising the wind," which will avoid the many difficulties and the injustice presented by the petrol tax as now proposed, and by any complicated system of rebates which, if the petrol tax be imposed as proposed, must inevitably swallow up a large proportion of the funds realised and for this purpose. I would suggest the substitution of a tax upon pneumatic tire covers, whether used to cover a tube filled with air, or with any other substance. Such a tax would have the merit of being easy of collection and of affecting only those who have already asserted their willingness to pay, for no true commercial vehicle uses pneumatic tires to-day, for the simple reason that it is not a commercial proposition, and as Scotland Yard is now taking steps to keep the pace of taxis below 20m.p.hr., even cabs could use solids with advantage. A tax on tire covers, too, whilst touching only the pleasure-car user, would have the further merit of not affecting the users of rubber for any other purposes, in striking contradistinction to the petrol tax, which will affect a great many people and trades unconnected in the remotest degree with motors or motoring ; if imposed as a percentage on list prices, or—perhaps preferably—at per lb. of weight, the tax could easily he made to produce approximately the sum which would he produced by the petrol tax. Such a tax, further, would have the advantage that, whilst equally with one on petrol it would depend directly upon the size and use of the car as to how much it would aggregate to a particular individual in a year's running, it would much-more directly tend to reduced road wear, for it is an accepted and proved fact that the man who drives fast and reekles.sly, not only does most damage to the road surface, but to his own tires as well.