Sales go into reverse as gas-guzzling 4x4s become 'socially unacceptable'

SALES of 4x4 vehicles have "virtually collapsed", according to a consumer group.

The magazine Which? Car branded such off-roaders "expensive, gas-guzzling … and becoming socially unacceptable" after a ninth successive month of falling new car sales, with manufacturers of 4x4s among those hardest hit.

Dealers have slashed prices, with 25 per cent being cut from a new 38,640 Volvo XC90, while a month-old Peugeot 4007 is being offered at nearly one-third off its 24,220 price new.

New car sales were down last month by nearly a third on a year ago, but the 4x4 maker Dodge sold 91 per cent fewer vehicles, while Jeep was down 79 per cent and Chrysler 77 per cent. Land Rover saw its sales fall by more than half.

Car makers blamed the recession and the difficulty of would-be buyers securing loans.

Motoring groups said drivers were switching to greener models but said smaller 4x4s remained a good choice for rural dwellers. Environmental groups welcomed the sales trend.

Richard Headland, the editor of Which? Car, published by the former Consumers Association, said: "A previously healthy market for 4x4s has virtually collapsed and some people have finally realised that an off-roader isn't the perfect car for the school run. Expensive, gas-guzzling cars like 4x4s are becoming socially unacceptable – unless you're a farmer.

"Buyers have also been turned off by high taxes and some models' disappointing reliability."

Elizabeth Dainton, head of research for the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, said: "The tax incentives previously provided for 4x4 vehicles in the United States have aided the development and availability of four-wheeled drive cars in the UK.

"In the current economic climate, 4x4 sales are falling, which indicates motorists are instead purchasing cars which are 'best in class' for both fuel consumption and carbon emission needs."

Edmund King, the AA president, said: "There is no doubt that many drivers are putting fuel economy as their first priority, but for many rural dwellers a smaller 4x4 is often a sensible option. The recent cold and icy spell tested many drivers. AA insurance saw claims climb by 100 per cent, but there weren't many by 4x4 drivers, who tended to stay on the road."

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents the UK car industry, said sales of 4x4s had suffered, as had other premium-brand models.

John Procter, its spokesman, said: "This is no surprise in this uncertain economic period and at a time when credit is difficult to obtain on the whole."

Corinne Evans, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "It's good to see the brakes put on 4x4 owners' relentless quest to trash our climate. Perhaps the school run can now be done in somewhat more sensible vehicles – or, even better, on foot."

Colin Howden, director of the sustainable transport campaign group Transform Scotland, said: "If this signals the demise of the sports utility vehicle as a common sight in urban areas, then it's long overdue. At a time when we need to deliver massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it's not acceptable for people to be driving these polluting monsters around our towns and cities."

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