Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Reports of the death of 4x4s greatly exaggerated

A bit before Christmas, The Times splashed their front page with the almost gleeful headline that 'Sales of 4x4s slump', blaming eco-hysteria and threatened tax rises by opportunist politicians and local councils for an apparent large drop in the sales of 4x4s.

By way of 'evidence' for the claimed slump, the report said that sales of 4x4s had plunged 'more than 15%' in November 2006, compared to November the previous year, and that sales 'have fallen in every month' in 2006, except March.

Predictably the anti-4x4 anoraks leapt on the report, claiming this was evidence that their absurd campaign against four wheel drive vehicles in particular was working - a knee-jerk reaction typical of their campaign as a whole, in that it overlooked some rather crucial facts.

Because what Ben Webster of the Times omitted to say is that, in November, two of the top-selling 4x4s - the Land Rover Freelander (pictured) and Honda CR-V - were replaced with brand new models. Consequently, rather than buy in November, those wanting to buy one of these popular 4x4s quite naturally waited instead until the new model was available.

So in this context the 15% drop in November's sales was actually not surprising at all.

The report also neglected to put the supporting claim that 'sales have fallen every month' in context of the declining market in new car sales during 2006. In reality 4x4 sales for the whole year fell 6.2% on 2005 numbers, while the whole new car market fell 3.9% during 2006. So 4x4 sales actually fell only by a further 2.3% more than all new cars generally.

That's hardly a 'slump', and is in fact most likely to be a distortion caused by three major model changeovers during 2006 - those mentioned above in November, plus the Toyota RAV4 that was replaced earlier in the year - during which supplies of vehicles to customers were interrupted as stocks of old models were run out.

In a further blow for anti-4x4 obsessives, both Land Rover and Jeep - makers of some of the biggest 4x4 vehicles on the market - announced record sales during 2006. Jeep’s overall increase was 22.6%, sales of the Range Rover Sport increased by 52% and the Range Rover by 12.5%.

And mass market car-makers Peugeot and Citroen also released plans to enter the 4x4 market with the brand new 4007 and C-Crosser models, expected in showrooms this summer.

The one redeeming feature of the Times article was seeing the RAC Foundation speak out in defence of 4x4s, saying quite rightly that much of the criticism such cars get is ill-informed because some smaller models, such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, are more fuel efficient than many people carriers and large saloons.

Edmund King, the foundation’s director, said "The demonisation of 4x4 drivers has been unfair because many chose one after considering the safety of their kids."

It's certainly about time they and the AA Motoring Trust started taking a more robust line in defence of the increasingly hard-pressed car user.