Fleet News

Comment: SUVs caught up in a new wave of hysteria

NOW that the fight to ban fox-hunting appears to have been settled once and for all, the class war seems to have moved into a new combat zone: four-wheel drive vehicles.

And while outlawing the pursuit of bushy-tailed foe across Gloucestershire while wearing a daft outfit was never likely to impact on the fleet industry, the increasing hysteria over SUVs, SAVs, 4x4s, crossovers, or whatever is this week’s marketing jargon for these things is, will do.

User-choosers and executives love their SUVs, and so do the leasing companies and fleets, because they achieve fantastic prices on the used market. The BMW X5 has again this week been quoted as the best performing vehicle in the whole car market for residual values, according to Henley Autodata.

Consistent negative press will eventually start to chip away at this though. The New Economics Foundation think-tank obviously doesn’t run any SUVs as company cars, as it claims they are killing the world with their emissions. True, in the USA there are some ludicrous examples of SUVs but in the UK and Europe, things are less daft. However, London Mayor Ken Livingstone still branded drivers of SUVs ‘idiots’. It’s not unrealistic to think that 4x4s may end up with an extra charge for entering city centres like London.

So what is it about these cars that causes such contempt? It is true that because they are heavier than the equivalent saloons and have four-wheel drive running gear, like-for-like they create more emissions and use more petrol than normal.

But the majority of SUVs are bought with diesel engines, while the majority of executive saloons are still bought with petrol motors so, in emissions and fuel terms, the transition is fairly carbon neutral. In almost all cases, they also take up no more road space than their saloon equivalents, based as they are on the same platform.

But – and here is the crux of the matter – posh people drive them. The image of mums taking Henrietta and Charles to prep school in a BMW X5 is ingrained in the national psyche, and while it does occur, it’s a gross generalisation that suits people who peddle the anti-SUV argument. The majority of people choose SUVs because they feel safe and secure in them, sitting above the chaos of the rest of the traffic, and in a crash they believe their kids are safer as well. With thousands of these cars bought and sold in the fleet industry each year, it’s important that this argument sticks to the facts, and doesn’t descend into a ‘them and us’ social squabble.

Steve Moody
Deputy editor, Fleet News

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