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4×4 – the facts

27 January 2007 #Cars #Registrations #SMMT News

4x4s/SUVs – the facts


The motor industry takes its responsibility to produce safe, environmentally friendly products seriously. SMMT has therefore become concerned about comments made by those who campaign against the modern 4×4/SUV vehicle – and its driver. More often than not, their views are based on unhelpful stereotypes and inaccurate statistics, rather than an understanding of the full range of vehicles available in the UK, their uses and their capabilities.


In response, SMMT presents these important points.


The market for 4x4s

Some have suggested that one in five new models sold in London is a 4×4 / SUV. This is wholly inaccurate. In 2006, new registrations of 4×4/SUV vehicles in London totalled 10,338 units – 5.6 per cent of the capital’s total new car market. That’s around one in 17. Across the UK, 175,805 4x4s/SUVs were registered as new in 2006, 7.5 per cent of 2.34 million new car sales. Nearly half of the 4x4s registered do not fall in Band G.


Environmental performance

New car carbon dioxide emissions – among other tailpipe emissions – are falling year-on-year, in every segment of the market, from superminis to luxury cars. 4x4s have made the best reduction in CO2 between 2004 and 2005, falling 3.3 per cent, and in the six years before that figures fell by 14.6 per cent.


Since 1997 MPVs have made the biggest reduction of 21 per cent, almost twice the industry average. Average emissions of CO2 from 4x4s/SUVs are around eight per cent lower than the average luxury saloon car and are on a par with figures for executive and sports cars.


Three quarters of sales in the 4×4/SUV segment are of diesel variants. These boast up to 30 per cent better fuel consumption and lower CO2 than petrol models. Manufacturers like Lexus and Ford are also working to bring alternative fuel models to market. The Lexus RX400h, launched in the UK in 2005, and models like the Ford Escape Hybrid are petrol/electric 4x4s/SUVs that boast equivalent fuel consumption and CO2 emissions to those of a standard saloon.  The CRV, Freelander and RAV 4 are all in VED Band F, with some diesel variants in Band E.


All vehicles, in all market segments, are subject to stringent European emissions legislation. The Euro III emission standard was mandatory from 2001 and the Euro IV standard came in, in January 2006. Many models, including versions of the Volkswagen Touareg and Toyota RAV 4 already met the Euro IV standards many months earlier than anticipated, demonstrating the desire of the sector to have the latest engine technology in use ahead of any legislative requirements.


Responsible Use

Manufacturers run 4×4/SUV training days for both dealership staff and customers. This ensures that dealers are fully aware of all the safety features and capabilities of the vehicles when discussing them with customers. Mitsubishi, for example, also supplements this with a driving skills section on its website. Land Rover has a network of Experience Centres around the country.


Running for over eight years, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class Experience offers every new M-Class and GL-Class customer the chance to achieve the highest standards of driving through a free off-road driving day at 12 sites across the UK.


Urban congestion

Consumers should choose a vehicle that best suits their needs. However, all drivers must be responsible for how they use their vehicle in urban areas, as well as on rural roads. Double-parking of any type of car creates unnecessary congestion and road safety hazards.


While often taller than other models, some of the most popular 4x4s are in fact narrower and shorter than the average saloon car. The Toyota RAV 4, for example, is 32cm shorter than the Toyota Avensis. The BMW X3 is 27.2cm shorter than a BMW 5 Series. The Nissan X-Trail is 11.2cm shorter than the Primera.  The best selling 4×4 on the market, the Honda C-RV, is shorter and narrower than a Mondeo or a Passat.


Many new 4x4s/SUVs also feature a seven-seat configuration rather than five as in a standard saloon or estate car. Ideal for those with older children, or those needing to use more than one car seat, in accordance with new legislation. Parents should be encouraged to coordinate their journeys. Where practical and using their capabilities, the number of vehicles on the ‘school run’ could actually be cut by the 4×4/SUV. Research by Volvo shows that 71 per cent of owners regularly use the third row of seats in the XC90 model. Land Rover research found that 53 per cent regularly carry three or more children in the back. Many with impaired mobility also appreciate the ease of entry and exit these higher vehicles provide.



The safety of occupants and pedestrians is of the highest priority for automotive manufacturers. The industry has recognised the concerns that have been raised and is making the necessary investments and improvements in vehicle design.


There have been reports that a pedestrian is 27 times more likely to be killed when hit by a 4×4/SUV compared to being struck by any other vehicle. The statistic is wrong.


An American report was published in 1998 but was not related to pedestrian impacts. It highlighted concerns relating to vehicle-to-vehicle side impact collisions of commercial vehicles, which in the US, includes some sports utility vehicles. 4×4/SUVs sold in the UK are far smaller than American models and, in the last few years, massive investment has been made in improving front end design and side impact protection.


A 2006 government report analysed the effect on casualties in a two-car impact of travelling in different types of car. Results confirmed that risk of serious injury or death was about half as great for 4×4 occupants, as for those in smaller cars.


Any impact with a moving object is likely to cause injury to a pedestrian. However, increasingly 4x4s/SUVs are scoring highly on pedestrian protection measures in independent EuroNCAP crash tests. The Nissan X-Trail and the Volvo XC90 both scored two stars in recent NCAP tests, while the Honda CR-V, the best selling 4×4 in Britain, and the RAV4, achieved an impressive three star rating.


There are many examples of models in other segments which perform less well than current 4×4/SUV models. Clearly crash protection is an issue of individual product design and not a reflection on an ‘unsafe’ vehicle type. The industry has recognised this and is working on the design of all vehicles types to minimise the impact of any collision.


Accident prevention cannot be reflected in statistics but nevertheless this is an important factor in the safety of modern 4×4/SUV vehicle design, and the subject of multi-million euro investment. For example, stability control systems are increasingly fitted as standard on 4×4 models, such as on the Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class. Anti-rollover technologies are also common, fitted to models like the new Land Rover Discovery III. Such ‘active safety systems’ are designed to prevent an accident occurring in the first place. Unfortunately an accident prevented is never reflected in statistics but we think it should be reflected in media reports.


A 4×4 capability makes a vehicle more stable in adverse weather conditions – on and off road. Ask yourself what type of vehicle you would rather drive in a snow storm, or during a flood. Equally, the command driving position and better visibility from which 4x4s/SUVs benefit also makes an accident less likely. Drivers are better able to see pedestrians, motorcycles and other vulnerable road users. Visibility is also being enhanced through the fitment of new blind spot cameras which can identify moving objects in unseen areas and alert the driver to potential dangers.


Vehicle theft

According to figures in the National Audit Office Reducing Vehicle Crime report published on 28 January 2005, 4x4s/SUVs and people carriers are the least likely types of cars to be stolen. In fact, they are half as likely to be taken by thieves as small saloons, mini and supermini models. Of every 1,000 small saloons on the road, 13 were stolen in 2003 compared to 12 for mini and supermini cars. The equivalent figure for 4×4/SUVs and people carriers is just six.



For some detractors the term 4×4 seems to be synonymous with ‘big and bulky’. But the reality is that many standard saloon cars feature a 4×4 capability, for example the Skoda Octavia 4×4, Fiat Panda 4×4 and Subaru Impreza.


The term 4×4 relates to driven axles. Most engines drive a single axle; usually the front but some cars feature ‘rear-wheel drive’. A 4×4 is simply a vehicle with the capability to balance the distribution of torque, sending more power to the front or back axle, helping prevent loss of traction caused by over or understeer.


The stereotype is that all 4x4s are bulky and polluting. But the diversity of models with a 4×4 capacity in terms of size and environmental performance etc, demonstrates the folly of attaching this type of label and using it to justify calls for a punitive tax regime or restriction on their use in certain environments.


January 2007

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