The 4×4 is here to stay – on and off-road

29 June 2004 #SMMT News

Sales of 4×4 vehicles are rising. Last year six per cent of the new car market were 4×4 off-roaders. While this is significantly lower than the 33 per cent who bought Fiesta-sized cars, the market for Sports Utility Vehicles and large 4x4s has more than doubled in ten years. Manufacturers are meeting increased demand but some in the anti-car lobby aren’t happy.

These vehicles are no more than status symbols, according to myth. Driven by housewives in central London, they exist to clog up roads on the school run. Tax them off the road they cry.

I say, what rubbish. And what an insult to the 150,000 people who bought a new one last year. Not to mention the thousands swopping hands on the used car market every day.

The truth is that there are many different reasons why new car buyers choose 4×4 models. These go way beyond a stereotype that suits the agenda of political opportunists.

For many buyers, a 4×4 capability is essential. This is particularly true for those living in rural areas, or where poor weather turns track to mud and road to streams in winter.

What of the rest? Many choose a larger 4×4 because it meets the needs of increasingly active 21st century pursuits. Carrying mountain bikes, towing a boat or hauling skis to the slopes of Aviemore in Scotland, these are the kind of leisure pursuits that the modern multi-purpose 4×4 takes in its stride.

Yes it’s true that some people feel safer in their 4×4 because of the command driving position. So what? Better visibility may help the less confident drive more safely and that benefits all road users.

Manufacturers have also made the new generation of 4x4s safer than ever. The goal now is to improve front end design so that the protection offered to pedestrians mirrors the excellent performance for occupants in NCAP safety tests. We’ve already removed bull bars from all 4x4s – a voluntary measure taken by the industry last year.

We are lucky to live in a country where we are free to choose the most suitable vehicle for our needs. That might not suit some but I think the majority would agree that this is right and proper. Consumer choice should also be the mantra of a government that claims to be pro-choice in other matters like education and health.

So we must rage against moves to tax a certain class of vehicle off the road simply because Mr Livingstone and his ilk don’t like them. Think about it. There are a host of 4×4 variants on the market and some have worse fuel consumption and emissions than other models.

Then consider car taxes. Road tax is based on carbon dioxide emissions so 4×4 drivers tend to pay more anyway. They also pay more as company car drivers since company car tax is also CO2 based.

Then there’s fuel tax. Three quarters of the price paid at the pump goes to Gordon Brown. The more you fill up, the more that goes to the Treasury.

Drivers of 4×4 vehicles already pay more. That’s the penalty for exercising a right to choose one type of vehicle over another. Taxing one type of car off the road because of an unhelpful stereotype is simply a nonsense. Even if it did discourage irresponsible driving it would also hit the vast majority of careful drivers going about their daily business.

We can only imagine what might be the next target for the extremists, sports cars, large saloons, minibuses? If that happens then we may only be one step away from a new car market full of nothing but the 21st century equivalent of the Trabant.

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