Safety criticism dents 4x4 sales in London

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The recent wave of negative publicity directed at 4x4 cars is affecting sales of the vehicles in London.

Figures published by the motor industry yesterday show that registrations of off-road vehicles so far this year account for 6.8 per cent of sales nationwide but only 5.9 per cent of sales in the capital.

Critics of 4x4 vehicles claim they are unsuitable for heavily populated cities because they are less safe than conventional saloons and cause more damage to the environment.

Safety campaigners say 4x4 vehicles are more dangerous because of their height, which means that in the event of a collision pedestrians tend to go under the vehicle rather than being thrown upwards and over the bonnet.

Antagonism towards off-road vehicles, in particular large "gas-guzzling" 4x4s such as the Range Rover, Toyota Land Cruiser and BMW X5, has been heightened by a threat from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to levy a higher congestion charge on off-road vehicles entering central London.

Mr Livingstone has called drivers of 4x4 cars "idiots" and has said: "These are not cars which people should be using in London."

Christopher Macgowan, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said that the sales figures exploded the myth that one in two cars being bought in London is a 4x4. "This is just one of the unhelpful stereotypes being used to berate drivers of this type of vehicle," he added.

The SMMT's figures show that total 4x4 sales are continuing to rise and were up by more than 13,000 in the first eight months of the year - an increase of 13.4 per cent to just under 112,000. However, sales in London rose by a much less steep 12.7 per cent to 6,331.

The SMMT said its sales numbers proved that the 4x4 market remained robust. But it admitted that the figures covered all vehicles with 4x4 capability, including models such as the Subaru Outback, which looks like a conventional estate car.

SMMT officials conceded that the growth in the market was being driven by much smaller 4x4 vehicles, such as the Freelander, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV.

Mr Livingstone has said he is too busy to meet the SMMT to discuss the matter.

Paul Everitt of the SMMT said: "If someone is buying a vehicle to use largely in an urban area, then it would not make sense to buy a large 4x4. But if they wanted to drive a 4x4 in the country at weekends, are we to say to them that they have to own two cars?"