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2006-09-18 08:34

John Oxley

These huge gas-guzzling machines flooded the US market, and their roads, until just about every family had one, and those who didn't aspired to having one.

And this phenomenon spilled over into the rest of the world, where a massive trend has developed that pretends 4x4s are safer and more desirable.

The reality, though, is that they are anything but safer, being less manoeuvrable, more prone to rolling over, and more difficult to steer and stop, the latter because they weigh so much, and their tyres don't grip as well because of that.

Most 4x4s never go further than the local mall and their "off-road" activities are restricted to puddle jumping and climbing pavements.

As a result motor manufacturers - particularly the Germans - are developing "tarmac 4x4s", big hulking machines not far removed from the American behemoths in size, but saved from being totally impractical and unsafe by the fitment of myriad electronic devices and by using advanced (and expensive) engineering.

And nobody, it seems, is heeding the warning inherent in the US manufacturers' woes - that sooner or later there's going to be backlash, and owners are going to be lumbered with vehicles they can't afford, and can't get rid of.

The reason why the US has turned its back on the 4x4 - or SUV, as the Americans prefer to call them - is because of the price of oil.

Big, heavy vehicles use more fuel than small light ones.

Powerful vehicles use more fuel than less-powerful ones.

It doesn't matter if you're using petrol or diesel - the big vehicles always use more than the small ones.

I think most of us acknowledge that the price of fuel is on an ever-rising spiral. Sometimes it dips, but most of the time it keeps climbing.

At the moment many of the owners of SUVs are protected from the real costs of filling up by the companies they work for, who throw in petrol cards, extra allowances, and so on, as part of the rewards package.

Sooner or later, though, this HAS to come to an end.

The number crunchers will look at what it's costing and cry foul.

The Government will realise it's not benefiting the country one iota, and will cry foul.

And SUV owners will look at them and just cry!


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