Sydney Morning Herald - Saturday 20 August 2005

Petrol price pushes 4WDs off the road

By Kirsty Needham and Harriet Alexander

Fewer new four-wheel-drive passenger vehicles were registered in Sydney during the first half of this year than in the same period in 2004, as a result of higher petrol prices.

The Roads and Traffic Authority recorded 14,330 new registrations over the period, compared with 16,817 a year earlier. In June there were 2511 new registrations, compared with 3162 in June 2004.

Car dealers said high fuel prices had forced many owners of 4WD vehicles to sell them.

"I've had people come to me and say, 'Look, I'm over driving this car and spending $100 on fuel. Get me something cheaper,' " said one northern beaches dealer, Mark Booth.

The owner of Cars Wanted, Andrew Nischler, said there had been a 20 per cent jump in people trading in 4WD vehicles this year. "There's definitely a heap of them going on the market," he said. "The prime reason is the price of fuel. There's just less people wanting them, period."

The average price of petrol across Sydney rose to a record $1.25 a litre on Thursday, at the peak of the weekly price cycle, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's petrol monitor.

The RTA says 859 hybrid electric-petrol cars are registered in NSW.

The Australian Consumers Association cautions, however, that these are not the cheapest solution for people who want to reduce driving costs. An association spokesman, Norm Crothers, said the weekly fuel saving from a hybrid would not cover the extra $20,000 it would cost to buy one, compared with a small car that also had low fuel consumption.

Other risks with hybrids, he said, included the fact that "it is unknown how long the battery will last and how much it will cost to replace it in 10 years' time".

Despite the increased marketing of more expensive high-octane fuel, soaring petrol prices had retarded sales growth in that category, a Shell spokeswoman said. Drivers of cars that did not need such fuel, but who had used it to enhance engine performance, were returning to ordinary petrol.

"The difference at that high-premium end starts to hurt the hip pocket, and there has been some downgrading," the Shell spokeswoman said.

A Mobil spokesman said a small percentage of vehicles need high-octane fuel but a growing number of people with prestige vehicles used it to enhance their car's performance.

The consumer's association said it was risky for drivers of cars that require high-octane fuel to ignore the manufacturers' advice in an attempt to save pennies at the bowser.

"It can do a lot of very expensive damage," Mr Crothers said.

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