6 July 2004

The industry fightback against the anti-SUV lobby gathered pace last week in the wake of the calls from the Government’s most senior transport adviser, Professor David Begg, for higher taxes for drivers of big 4x4 vehicles. Begg called them irresponsible due to the increased pollution and congestion in urban areas, as well as the safety implications for pedestrians and cyclists.

The outburst follows London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s branding of school-run SUV drivers as ‘idiots,’ and Lib Dem MP Norman Baker calling for them to be banned from school runs.

Sales of 4x4s accounted for six per cent of new car sales last year, which equated to more than 150,000 vehicles, and the SUV market has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders reacted angrily to the attack. ‘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,’ said Christopher Macgowan, SMMT chief executive. ‘We must rage against moves to tax a certain class of vehicle off the road just because Mr Livingstone and his ilk don’t like them.’

GM vice-chairman Bob Lutz also waded into the debate. He reportedly described the attacks on big SUVs as totalitarian, questioning how any vehicle that passes emissions and safety rules could be banned.

The SMMT argues that drivers of such vehicles are already penalised in terms of the emissions-based road tax and company car tax, as well as higher fuel consumption. ‘That’s the penalty for exercising a right to choose one vehicle over another. Taxing one type of car off the road because of an unhelpful stereotype is simply a nonsense,’ said Macgowan. ‘What’s next – minibuses?’ The Treasury says it is not currently looking at raising the duty paid on larger vehicles.

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