Sales of 4x4s slump as costs and changing attitudes bite

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Indy Politics

The "Chelsea Tractor", once the vehicle of choice for Footballers' Wives and parents taking their children to school, has suffered a sharp drop in popularity.

Sales of 4x4s were down 15 per cent last month compared with November 2005, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders will say today. In the yea to date, sales have fallen six per cent, the first drop in a decade.

The demise in popularity of the vehicle has been blamed on rising costs associated with the vehicles. Today, Chancellor Gordon Brown will announce that fuel duty will rise approximately 1.2 pence per litre, ending a three-year freeze. While his Pre-Budget report is not expected to single out the vehicles, gas-guzzling cars will be the most affected by the increase.

In March, the Chancellor introduced a £210 rate for the most heavily polluting vehicles. The Band G Vehicle Excise Duty for cars that emit more than 225 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre affects people buying the Land Rover Discovery, BMW X5 and Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has said he is considering trebling the congestion charge for Band G vehicles to £25 to drive in the centre of London. And in Richmond-on-Thames, the price of a parking permit for a Band G vehicle is planned to treble to £300 per year.

Ten years ago, 78,000 new 4x4s - originally intended for navigating rough country terrain - were sold in Britain. By 2005, the figure had risen to more than 187,000. This is the first year since 1996 that sales have decreased. The SMMT will announce that with the exception of March this year - when new vehicles bought before the end of the month escaped the Band G charge - the number of sales have decreased every month. While sales of 4x4s rose 4 per cent last year, they have dipped 6 per cent in total this year.

The drop in popularity is also believed to reflect a changing attitude towards "climate-wrecking cars". Jenny Jones, a representative of the Green Party on the London Assembly, has described the vehicles as "a fashion statement of the greedy".

Yesterday, a Greenpeace spokesperson said: "The most polluting vehicles, like many makes of 4x4, are spewing huge quantities of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere causing climate change. It's encouraging that sales of 4x4s have slowed, it shows Britain may at last be turning its back on climate-wrecking cars as scientists warn that global warming poses a huge threat to the planet. But tens of thousands of urban 4x4s are still sold every year in Britain."

Ken Hurst, the editorial director of The Manufacturer magazine, attributed some of the wane in popularity of the vehicles to child pressure. "Possibly children who once saw the vehicles as status symbols now feel ashamed when they are dropped off at the school gates," he said.

The slump in sales has been replicated in America, where sales have dropped 28 per cent in a year, prompting General Motors to announce a slowdown in production of the vehicles.