Sunday, 30 August 2009

A lesson from the US failure

According a a recent post in today’s Age, 4x4s, formally known as SUVs (sport utility vehicles) have been offsetting gains in fuel efficiency.

It is a point that I have known for so long, probably because my mother has long been angry that in many suburbs of Melbourne “every vehicle is either a BMW, a Mercedes or a four-wheel-drive”.

What I have learned independently, however, is that allowing 4x4s to have fuel consumption standards that are the same as those of commercial vehicles is the source of growth in 4x4 sales – along with the sinking of fuel prices into the depth of the Mariana Trench during the 1990s and over the past year. Less cheap petrol would certainly help but is politically suicidal, as is mass transit that would ire the mining and road lobbies.

However, making sure 4x4s are treated as ordinary passenger cars – even if as a distinct subset thereof – might well prevent or ameliorate the problems the United States has had with growth in 4x4 sales to something like half the passenger car market. Efforts to find a way of making the prices vehicles pay for the right to use roads correspond to the damage caused is another step, as would making sure all 4x4s pay the full luxury car tax – they are if anything less “essential” and more ecologically damaging than even a Rolls-Royce.

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