Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The seatless car
Originally uploaded by
I have been meaning to blog about Danish cars ever since I first set foot there 18 months ago. I found it absolutely mind-blowing and still do. There are many parts to the car tax policy that are incomprehensible to us foreigners. I am sure anyone, unfamiliar with Denmark, will fall off their seat in shock once I mention a few of its surprises.
I lived in Germany many years ago (1989) and for some (illogical) reason, I always assumed Scandinavia would be quite German in its car policies. I visualised lots of green policies - many small cars, but bright and new so low in pollution. I imagined car sharing amongst students - after all, my Konstanz stay was punctuated by hitch-hiking in old VW campervans and looking uni noticeboards for Mitfahrgelegenheiten on the weekends. I presumed that once you had a reasonable job in Denmark you'd probably drive around in a fancy Saab, the way the Germans drive their BMWs.
Thomas mentioned his parents shared a car - a minister and a university professor in the UK would have 2 cars - they wouldn't share a car. I figured it'd be something fancy - he is a top professor, after all, and she must have to drive around a lot as a minister. It is a Fiat Multipla. There is nothing odd about that in itself - many of my mum friends drive Multiplas given they have 6 seats - Oh no they don't...Oh yes they do???? but not always if you live in Denmark! Thomas's parents' Multipla has 3 seats. I thought they were nipping down to Ikea to buy a new dining room table or something. Nope - they only own 3 seats! Car tax in Denmark is so high that many people use the tax loophole of converting their cars to vans (by removing all but the front row of seats) to pay less tax... now I don't mean no tax - a 3 seater Multipla is still majorly more expensive than a 6 seater one here in Scotland but it is then affordable. The net result is that no one in Denmark with these adapted cars can give you a lift anywhere. If 4 adults go out to the theatre together they can't go in one car, they need to take 2. So instead of the green policy I expected, while the rest of us are being encouraged to car-share and avoid single occupant journeys, Denmark is populated by empty cars all driving around.
The other problem, of course, is that because car tax is so high even people with the most prestigious jobs are driving about in 10 year old cars - the kind of thing we here bought as our first car at the age of 18. Thomas remarked that although Copenhagen felt like a city with fewer cars than Glasgow, the pollution level was worse - possibly because of the number of really old cars still in use.
Often when asked what I drive, (a 2 year old 7 seater Citroën C8), I am met by a blank look as they just don't exist there (they retail at more than £50K unlike the approx £20K here). When I elaborate You know the big Citroën people often ask if I mean the C4!
Funny country!

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