Off-roaders have been the subject of increasing criticism from several angles, including mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who is considering ways to combat the perceived threat of SUVs.
Another critic is David Begg, the Government’s most senior transport advisor, who branded 4x4 drivers in urban areas “irresponsible”.
On top of that, a report from the New Economics Foundation, a UK based independent think tank, has called for tobacco-style labelling on all new SUVs and their advertising.
“We need labelling to encourage people not to drive these four-wheel behemoths in the same way we encourage people not to smoke,” says policy director of NEF, Andrew Simms. “If we can’t, we may need to find a very large ashtray for our planet’s future.”
This has forced manufacturers to hit back. Nissan has just launched the petrol-only engined Murano, its sixth 4x4 and this will be followed by the Pathfinder next year.
“Our best selling 4x4, the X-Trail, is the only model that sells in any quantity in urban areas and the majority of those are diesels, which are no more polluting than many saloons,” says a Nissan spokesman.
“The most recent Euro NCAP results show protection given to pedestrians by the X-Trail is above average. Our larger four-wheel drives are all diesel-fuelled, consume less fuel than many MPVs and take up less road space.”
Honda is also unhappy at all 4x4s being categorised together.
“Our product, the CR-V is classed as a small off-roader and so by the current ‘one size fits all’ approach would need to carry a health warning,” says a Honda spokesman.
“The 2.0-litre petrol model has a lower CO2 emission and a better mpg than a 2.0-litre Vauxhall Vectra Elite. We don’t want to pick on Vauxhall here – it’s just that it demonstrates a point. All 4x4s are not the same.”
Honda also points out that Euro NCAP lists only a handful of cars that attain three stars for pedestrian safety – the CR-V being one of them.
Meanwhile the RMI believes the SUV debate is a hollow one, and that there are other vehicles that should be targeted. “The problem is you end up generalising. I’ve no doubt that some of the really large SUVs can be a problem, but not in urban areas like London,” says Alan Pulham, franchised dealer director for the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI).
From January to August, 2004, 5.9% of new cars registered in London were 4x4 vehicles compared with a national average of 6.8%. Glass’s says the debate about four-wheel drive vehicles is having little effect on sales or residual values.
Jeff Patterson, Glass’s senior car editor, says: “Until legislation is put forward to restrict the use of such vehicles, there is little prospect of any tail off in demand.”