Submitted: Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 15:59
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Paris is trying to ban four-wheel-drives. As sales of the cars soar in Australia, Gabriella Coslovich asks whether they deserve their fearsome reputation for safety and waste.

There's a growing divide on Australian roads and it's encapsulated by three letters - SUV. They stand for something Australians used to call a four-wheel-drive and are now encouraged to call a sports utility vehicle, yet another tag inherited from the United States.

In the past few years, Australians have embraced the vehicle, if not quite the acronym, with a vengeance, seduced by shrewd car-makers selling the ubiquitous promise of "lifestyle". Australians are eager to buy into the fantasy. Figures released last week show that the market for SUVs is growing at double the rate of car sales in general. Last year, Australians bought 85,545 new SUVs - that's 10,346 more than they did in 2003, a rise of 13.8 per cent.

But while Australians' love affair with sports utility vehicles thrives, there is a growing counter movement that denounces them as gas-guzzling, dangerous nuisances that have no place on city roads.

To those who love them, SUVs are spacious status-symbols, metal fortresses, badges of virility and tickets to outback adventure.

To those who loathe them they are nothing more than trumped up kidcarriers, road-hogging camouflage vehicles for tied-down dads who would rather be single studs, and monied mums who would rather be Carrie Bradshaw.

"The vast majority just hate them, they think ‘what a selfish thing to be buying. You gas-guzzle, you block everyone's sight, you have more likelihood of killing someone in an accident with a normal car, and you are more likely to roll over and kill someone'," says Harold Scruby, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.
A litany of names have sprung up to describe SUVs: from the hackneyed Toorak tractor to urban assault vehicles, or even SSCs - Sad Suburban C---s - to use the phrase coined by Scottish author Christopher Brookmyer in his anarchic book A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away. Former prime minister Paul Keating called them "a pox ... of significant proportions" and vowed that if he had his way he'd "tax them off the roads".

The French are hoping to do just that. Last month, English newspaper The Guardian reported that, under a proposed radical green road tax, French drivers who favour large, gasguzzling cars would have to pay up to 3500 euros more for a new model come January. Conversely, drivers who opt for small cars emitting less than 140g per kilometre of carbon monoxide, will be rewarded with a rebate of up to 700 euros.

The plan follows a controversial decision by the Paris town council to try to ban four-wheel-drives from the streets of the capital.
Unlike the French, Australians are not so far facing the prospect of paying for their lifestyle choice.

Should Australia be following France's lead? Yes, say environmentalists, road safety experts and ordinary folk who detest SUVs. Absolutely not, say proponents of the free market.

"I think it's a question of consumer choice and desire and very clearly … people want to move to these types of vehicles as an alternative," says Peter Sturrock, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
In fact, presently Australia does the opposite to the French - rewarding those who buy SUVs with an artificially cheaper car. By virtue of an outdated Government policy, SUVs imported into Australia attract a lower tariff than passenger cars.
Twenty years ago, the Government decided that four-wheel-drives should only attract a 5 per cent import tariff compared to the 15 per cent tariff imposed on passenger cars. Back then, the policy made perfect sense as fourwheel- drives were used as off-road work vehicles. But, as everyone knows, these days they are more likely to be found clogging suburban streets at school pick-up time. "We are subsidising trauma and we are taxing safety," says Scruby.

Based on 2002 sales of four-wheel-drives, Australia lost an estimated $360 million in customs duties because of the tariff anomaly. Some Subarus, including the popular Forester, are even modified on the production line specifically for the Australian market to take advantage of the lower tariff. The Australian Forester is 10mm higher than those sold in the rest of the world to meet the 200mm ground clearance requirement.

To be fair, the Government is reducing the tariff on passenger cars to 10 per cent by January, and 5 per cent by 2010. But that's not enough, says the Australian Conservation Foundation's Michael Krockenberger.
The ACF, he says, has for many years been encouraging Australian governments to impose higher sales taxes on gas-guzzling cars, much like the proposed French model. The introduction of GST complicated that push, but Krockenberger says an alternative would be to reward those who buy environmentally friendly cars by setting car registration and insurance fees according to fuel efficiency. Those who genuinely need four-wheel-drives would be exempt from higher charges.

But are SUVs as hazardous to life and environment as their detractors suggest, or are they an easy target? In Australia, the latest figures from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory show that in 2002 road transport caused 69.9 megatons of emissions, a rise of 27 per cent from 1990. For every litre of petrol consumed, 2.3kg of carbon dioxide is emitted - so doesn't it make sense to encourage people to buy fuel-efficient cars?

Yes, says Michael Case, chief engineer at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, but not by imposing taxes.

"(Four-wheel-drives) are mostly quite expensive to buy and relatively expensive to operate and that limits their appeal," says Case. "Our approach has been to (encourage people to) buy vehicles that are appropriate for their needs."
When pressed, though, Case is forced to acknowledge that it's clearly not that simple. For many people, the decision to buy a car is often more of a fashion statement than a practical consideration.

Generally, a heavier vehicle will use more fuel and produce more emissions than a smaller, lighter vehicle, Case says. But one needs to be careful about making blanket assertions - some high-powered V8s guzzle more than some SUVs. The latest Fuel Consumption Guide (2002- 2003) shows that some of the socalled "compact" SUVs, such as the Toyota RAV4 or the Honda CRV use about 9 litres per 100km in city conditions - about the same as a Ford Laser or a Volkswagen Golf. The Ford Escape, which is also classed as a compact SUV, uses about 13 litres per 100 km, marginally less than a Holden Statesman V8, which consumes about 14 litres per 100km.

In comparison, the Ford Explorer, which is classed as a large SUV, uses about 17 litres per 100km. Diesel-operated models, such as Land Rover's Discovery or Toyota's Land Cruiser, are also more fuel efficient. Mind you, as far as Melbourne City Toyota car dealer Vince Parisi has seen, fuel efficiency doesn't seem to be that much of a concern when it comes to buying an SUV.
"It's probably still not a big issue. A few weeks ago, when fuel was above $1 (per litre), there started to be some jitters, but it was only a shudder."
Melbourne University's Associate Professor Ian Simmonds would like to see the day when four-wheeldrives are considered as socially unacceptable as smoking in public spaces. He has an idea even more radical than that of the French - double the price of petrol and use the revenue to educate people. "It's really got to the point where people have to think to themselves, when they are filling up their tanks … all that gas is going to greenhouse emissions."

But perhaps the more immediate and tangible problem is the issue ofsafety. The proliferation of SUVs on our roads at a time when many people are also buying more small cars has created a dangerous incompatibility on our roads. Sure, the biggest growth in the SUV market has been in the sale of "medium" vehicles - Australians bought 26,981 last year, up from 18,126 in 2003. But those who have had a Land Rover Discovery or the top-selling Toyota Prado sitting behind them in peak-hour traffic, know how menacing "medium" can seem - especially when it comes fitted with a bull-bar.
Researchers at Monash University deliberately chose a four-wheeldrive from the "compact" category - Land Rover's Freelander - to show that it is not mass but, rather, the shape of some four-wheel-drives that can be so fatal in ‘T-bone' crashes with ordinary sedans. The mass of the Freelander was 1536kg, little more than the mass of the SAAB sedan at 1380kg. But a video of the crash test will do nothing to reassure those who fear the sight of a four-wheel-drive. As the Freelander careers into the side of a SAAB sedan, the SAAB driver's head crashes against the Freelander's higher bonnet.
"That's effectively a death blow," says Raphael Grzebieta, president of the Australasian College of Road Safety.
"It's not mass that's the issue, it's geometric incompatibility and stiffness. We can even design a truck to be crash-compatible. The problem is that no one is looking at this area. What we have is a free-for-all at the moment for designing and selling these four-wheel-drives."
Yet car dealers are keen to promote the grunt-factor of four-wheel-drives - in its recent mid-year sale Nissan was advertising bonus bull-bars on purchases of its popular Patrol wagon.
"They're giving away an optional killing weapon, it's disgraceful," says Grzebieta.
Despite the hype, owning a four-wheel- drive presents its own hazards. According to the Australasian College of Road Safety, roll-over is more prevalent in SUVs than in passenger cars, with some four-wheel-drives having up to five times the roll-over rate than typical passenger cars. Yet there is no requirement for manufacturers to provide protection against roll-over.
A parliamentary report into road safety, delivered last month, urged the Government to research vehicle incompatibility "as a matter of priority". The inquiry also recommended that the Government fund research into the roll-over propensity and crashworthiness of both passenger cars and four-wheeldrives.
Asked about the report, a spokesman for Federal Transport Minister John Anderson said: "we already have strict ADRs (Australian design rules) regarding four-wheeldrives. That doesn't mean we won't rule out looking beyond that, we will respond more fully in due course."
The Federal Government, has, however, ruled out imposing a higher tax on SUV users. The Federal Opposition has no such plans either. For now, it seems, SUV fans can rest easy. Unlike the $3000 baby bonus, there are no votes in taxing people's "lifestyle" choices.
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Reply By: Des Lexic - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 16:33

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 16:33
Truckster, you shoulh have posted this article under Roachie's thread of Let The Crap Begin. It's where it deserves to be. It is complete and utter crap. Why is the 4WD(not SUV's) market growing so rapidly? Because consumers want them. I know I'm no rocket scientist but how can you turn 1 litre of fuel weighing approximately 1kg by burning it in a combustion chamber and turn it into 2.3kg of carbon dioxide. More wank material I think.
AnswerID: 67591

Follow Up By: Member - Captain (WA) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:02

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:02
Hi Des Lexic,

While I agree 100% with you about the article, they are right about the fuel to carbon dioxide. The fuel reacts with atmospheric oxygen to produce CO2.

But its typical of what these articles do; combine some facts with a lot of B.llsh.t and present the whole lot as fact. If one part is fact, the other must be ????


FollowupID: 328285

Follow Up By: Mad Dog (Victoria) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 18:01

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 18:01
I wonder how much CO2 is produced by aircraft jetting people around the world on non essential air travel.
FollowupID: 328290

Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:43

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:43
I wonder how much CO2 is generated by people simply exhaling ....


The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get. (Lewis Carroll-Alice In Wonderland)

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FollowupID: 328335

Follow Up By: Bazza - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 09:36

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 09:36
It's only against the law ( NSW ) to leave the tounge/gooseneck on a towbar if the ball obstructs the view of the numberplate.
FollowupID: 328404

Reply By: Member - Alan- Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:07

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:07
I would have thought the answer was for better driver training where they're taught not to pull out into the path of ANY vehicle not just 4 wheel drives.
How is it that we get such a bad press, but buses, trucks and Mums taxi full of kids jumping around doesn't get a mention most times!
You can't see through them either at road junctions but no one bitches about it to the extent they carry on about us.
The loonies driving high powered sedans around the streets night and day make me feel more nervous than a 4by, truck or bus.
Why haven't some of the tossers they hand out licences to got a sense of self preservation?
If they pull in front of a heavy vehicle and get squashed I have no sympathy for them because they've done it to me many times, giving me plenty of near heart attacks!
Methinks most of the crap stems from jealousy and the fact that we've got too many pollies with nothing better to do with their time, and we're funding too many academics who just love investigating others to justify the vast amounts of taxpayers money which is totally wasted on them!
A pox upon the lot of them.
AnswerID: 67595

Reply By: Michael - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:11

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:11
There is obviously some truth in the above but 4x4s are legal and we should be able to purchase anything that is available. That Scruby wanker is 'a would be if he could be', He just likes to hear himself talk. He drives a Subaru 4x4 wagon, probably suits him well. He is the one man band Pedestrian Safety Council President but likes to talk on anything controversial. He is also on the Aus Flag committee and something to do with the Australian Republic Movement, i think. I wonder if he has a real job or getting paid from these "NON PROFIT" Organisations???
AnswerID: 67596

Follow Up By: Michael - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:20

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:20
I see some of those tiny little Matiz or Maritz or whatever they are called and Toyota echo's and the tiny Diahatsu's and shudder, Its not just a 4x4 in a side impact that would kill the occupants, a Commodore or Falcon would do the same. These people must be either stupid or dont care about their safety, I 'd like to find out how they feel about being in an accident. Maybe they think it will never happen to them. Thats what all the owners of the thousands of cars in wrecking yards thought also....
FollowupID: 328287

Follow Up By: Michael - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:26

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:26
If Harry Scruby had his way, we would be going back the old law when cars we first thought to be a nuisence back in 1900. A law was passed that a person holding a red flag had to walk in front of the vehicle to alert others on the road.. Yes thats Harry's mentality....
FollowupID: 328288

Follow Up By: Member - Jeff M (WA) - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:54

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:54
What about a toyota tarago or a Kia or Chyrsler "people mover" they are even bigger at the front end that most 4bies, should they be banned as well. I'm sure they are not light and use more fuel with their v6 engines than my 4cyl diesel does!
FollowupID: 328410

Reply By: Member - Sparkie (QLD) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:38

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 17:38
That is Crap of the worst kind.

We have ways of making engines as powerfull as any today at a fraction of the pollution costs.

As long as the oil is flowing we are all stuck with the motors we are given.
If the goverments were fair dinkum we would have seen alternative methods and cleaner engines already.

As for KILLING weapons, WTF. If they fixed these things some people called roads we would not hear about this crap. There are learner drivers out there doing over 200 kph. What if they hit someone or something. I dont think there would be a lot of pieces left over to pick up.
It all comes down to sensibility and education. People need to take responsibility for there own stupidity. I cannot believe people believe this S$%T is the way to go!!!!!!!

Sparkie(IE not Y) ;-)
AnswerID: 67602

Reply By: Member - Bernard - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 18:59

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 18:59
Being funded at $50,000+ by the taxpayers, Harold Scruby, President (and only member) of the Pedestrian Council can afford to blow off about anything and everything ... in fact, has to so that he can ensure he continues to be funded.

Unfortunately, like many people with a real or imaginary axe to grind he speaks from his nether regions not from where his brain is (or should be).

Of course there are people who should never be driving fourbies ... just the same as there are people who shouldn't ride bikes, drive luxury cars, medium and large trucks, taxis, or small, buzz-box tin cans. My nightmares always come to the surface when I'm confronted with aggressive bimbos in small buzz boxes who are determined to get in front of you no matter of how dangerously that have to drive to accomplish that feat.

I know it's not popular but, perhaps we will need to introduce some form of compulsory training and higher licence for fourbie drivers ... just the same as is required for different classes of trucks.

But the main point we need to get across to Scruby, Keating and other politicians is that they are our SERVANTS not our rulers!! It's the job of politicians to give the population what they want and need ... not what suits the fancies or ideals of the pollies.

Most pollies have never had a productive job in their life, turned over a hard-earned dollar, or lived in the real world ... but they still think they know better than us what is good for us.

Remember, politicians are easiuly identifiable ... they're the only people who can look you in the eye, smile, and shake your hand and, at the same time, have both their hands in your pockets extracting your honestly-earned dollar.

Perhaps paul Keating should consider politicians " a pox" and "tax them out of existence." Mind you, he was always a blabbermouth clown too.

Let's remember there are some irresponsible fourbie srivers, but not as big a proportion as irresponsible car drivers, bicycle riders and pedestrians ... if Scruby and others are serious, let's get some commonsense into the debate.
AnswerID: 67624

Reply By: Member - Mark S (WA) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 19:19

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 19:19
I gather the article is from The Age newspaper - is that Melbourne? Harold Scruby is from Sydney????? Why can't you people over there control your idiots?
As for the Saab and Freelander - easy - have all Saab drivers wear helmets - what sort of person actually buys a Saab anyway????? rgds ps watch the Adventra computer when it tells you it is using 50l/km - got it to go to 72 but I think the valves were going to join the bonnet for a while.
Slow down and relax......

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AnswerID: 67632

Follow Up By: Diesel Do - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:10

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:10
Control the idiots? Well yeah. Sorta.

We built them this dirt big sand pit between Melbourne and Sydney, and gave them all sorts of toys to play with. (National Museum, Lake Burley Griffin, Members bars, dining rooms etc)

And the sods still keep getting out!
FollowupID: 328325

Reply By: andysgu - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:23

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 20:23
lt seems to me that this Melb professor Ian Simmonds and Chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Victoria are a couple of real wankers and walk around with there heads up each others rectrum .
And as far as the French are concernd l think they have more of a problem with people dying from aids and lung cancer than being hit by a 4wd.

AnswerID: 67650

Reply By: Member- Rox - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:18

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:18
High rise buildings use more energy and produce more co2 than the motor industry. Thats what a tv show said reciently.

Why dont people get up set when they make cars that can travel at 2 times the leagal speed especial people that have lost love ones due to speed?

They are always on about smoking (I am a non smoker) & I dont think there is aperson alive in Aus that hasnt herd the message and knows the results of a life time of smoking. so why dont they stop telling us every couple of weeks and let us make our own choce. I have and so have you.

They only rattle on about whats popular at present, They will never say lets have a industrial free week so we all can get fit again and loose weight, Lets ban all cars for a week!!!! WHAT!!! why because it wont sell!

My 2 bobs worth
AnswerID: 67667

Reply By: Flash - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:25

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:25
Trucks, and trains kill people too. Try getting hit by either..... side-on, front on or rear-on and you've got buckley's chance of survival.

Therefore I propose we ban both!
(same logic)
AnswerID: 67668

Follow Up By: Truckster (Vic) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:28

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:28
Oh you havent heard the latest..

Scruby wants to ban........... TOWBARS...
FollowupID: 328350

Follow Up By: Utemad - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:53

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 21:53
I think Scruby is right if he wants to ban towbars.

Just the other day I was removing the tongue from my Hayman-Reese towbar and dropped it on my foot. Didn't kill me but geez it hurt!!!

FollowupID: 328363

Follow Up By: Truckster (Vic) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 22:00

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 22:00
Ahhh but what if a pedistrian was flying past against the traffic when you removed that deadly tounge?? Could have been their foot...
FollowupID: 328367

Follow Up By: Muddy 'doe (SA) - Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 22:01

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2004 at 22:01
He must have knocked his shin on one recently while out doin' the pedestrian thang! Thats what happens when you have your head in la-la land not looking where you are going!!!

FollowupID: 328368

Follow Up By: Michael - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:24

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:24
Someone told me the other day that it is illegal to leave the tongue in a square mount towbar but it is not enforced...(nsw)
FollowupID: 328398

Follow Up By: Utemad - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:30

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:30
Yes, I have heard that too.

At approx $80/tongue it amazes me how many people leave them on their vehicle with only the standard pin to attach them. You can get a locking pin for $20. I have had one friend who when parked at a shopping centre came bak to find it stolen.

FollowupID: 328399

Follow Up By: Michael - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:49

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 08:49
I remove my tongue from my Patrol and replace it with a piece of 50 mm tube, sticks out about the same as the normal tongue, hoping Harold Scruby walks past and bangs his shins on it...

P.S. I bet there is a few people that would like to remove Scruby's tongue LOL....
FollowupID: 328400

Follow Up By: Allan Mac (VIC) - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:41

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:41
Learnt my lesson one day in Adelaide a few years ago. Unhitched the van to go Marrion and was only gone 10 minutes and presto no hitch plenty $$ to replace to get going again..never again
FollowupID: 328409

Reply By: Allan Mac (VIC) - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:50

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 11:50
This is the sort of CRAP that really pings me off. This is a submission in 50/50 in the Herald Sun on the 10th Jul and I quote
"I've had it up to my sunroof with 4WDs. I was nearly T-Boned at an intersection, forced into the gutter and intimidated into pulling off the road, all withing a city block" submitted by "Mild Maurie" Carlton
3 incidents in one block..Me thinks Maurie should not even be on the road ..What the bleeping hell would he do if he was confronted by a B-Double. Give me a break Pulease!!!
AnswerID: 67732

Reply By: Black Jack - Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 17:08

Wednesday, Jul 14, 2004 at 17:08
Don't you just love articles like this. Gets the blood flowing!
Following up on a comment made earlier...
Camper vans etc use much the same fuel and are flat at the front, thus proving to much the same a safety hazzard. If they got rid of 4x4s then they would move onto other recreational vehicles. Then we would never be able to enjoy the expanse that is Australia.

Then what about all those small trucks that are driving about without full loads...

Driver training in Australia is not up to standard. When are drivers taught how to negotiate difficult situations, ice, snow, heavy rain, not to mention how to enter freeways and roundabouts? If driver training taught people how to drive on Australian roads then there would not be as many accidents and people would not be so threatened by larger vehicles.

Black Jack
AnswerID: 67765

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