Sydney Morning Herald - Wednesday 16 February 2005

Short road for big cars
The war against 4WDs is being fought on new fronts. But, writes Tim Dick, armies of us will still keep buying them.

You would not expect a four-wheel drive to be Australia's least air-polluting vehicle. But there it is, the Jeep Cherokee Sport, at the top of the Australian Greenhouse Office's ranking.

Every new car is ranked by the Greenhouse Office to show how badly it pollutes the air. Vehicles are assessed for pumping out things such as carbon monoxide and benzene, adding to city smog and making breathing decidedly unpleasant.

Unfortunately for the 4WD lobby, the Cherokee is an exception. Big cars do not appear again in the Greenhouse Office's top 100. Which is why a number of councils were yesterday considering joining North Sydney in imposing high parking fees on what they regard as big, gas-guzzling, air-polluting vehicles.

North Sydney Council passed its controversial new scale of residents' parking charges on Monday night. Manly, Willoughby and Parramatta councils were yesterday looking to follow suit. (But some people, such as Waverley's Mayor, Peter Moscatt, say it is not the place of local government to encourage greener cars.)

North Sydney's scale drops the parking fee by half for "very low-impact" vehicles, such as those powered by petrol and electricity. Smaller cars, like a Toyota Corolla, get a 25 per cent discount. Large family cars retain the current fee, while owners of "high-impact" vehicles - named as 4WDs and those with eight-cylinder engines - will pay double the parking fee ($88 for one permit, $200 for a second).

Is the poor reputation of 4WDs warranted? Yes, say environmentalists such as Jeff Angel, director of the NSW green lobby group Total Environment Centre. "It's the move to bigger [vehicles] that's the problem."

While the 2.4-litre Jeep Cherokee Sport - which is much smaller than its brethren, the Nissan Patrol, Toyota LandCrusier and Mitsubishi Pajero - enjoys a top air-quality rating, it does not fare as well on the Government's greenhouse gas emissions rating. (The Toyota Prius - which runs on petrol and a bank of batteries - comes first on this scale.)

All vehicles have to comply with air pollution standards, but not the greenhouse gas rating, which is influenced by how much fuel a vehicle uses. On a scale of zero to 10 (where zero is the least environmentally friendly), the Cherokee Sport scores five. It trails the tiny 1.5-litre Holden Cruze on 7.5, but beats Porsche's 4WD Cayenne on 2.0, Toyota's LandCruiser on 1.5 and the 4.8-litre Nissan Patrol on just 0.5.

"There are three reasons that [4WDs] are unhelpful to the environment," says Angel. "They use more metal and materials, and we should in fact be conserving resources, bearing in mind that very few people need these large vehicles for the trips they do. They often use diesel, which produces fine particulates which are very dangerous air pollutants. [And] they are less efficient users of fuel [than cars]."

Although some older small cars are more of an environmental menace than the latest 4WDs, Angel does not believe authorities should focus on forcing older cars off the road. "Australians hang on to their cars for about a decade. You can't force people to put new emission controls on [existing cars]. It's pretty bloody difficult."

The more practical strategy is to address the problem in new, big cars and let the older cars gradually die out.

NO MOTOR vehicle has particularly green credentials. Altogether, cars, trucks and 4WDs have an enormous input into pollution. Since 1999, the Federal Government's National Pollutant Inventory has tracked what exactly is in the air that, generally speaking, shouldn't be.

Collectively, motor vehicles are the biggest contributors to the country's emissions, pumping out 8.8 per cent of Australia's emissions every year. They release more chemicals than mining, metal manufacturing, aerosols and all other categories.

Motor vehicles produce more than a third of our carbon monoxide emissions (or 2.2 billion kilograms a year going into our air, land and water) and two-thirds of our benzene emissions.

This is why some Sydney councils are considering following North Sydney's lead and levying charges on big vehicles. "The proposed variation in [parking] fees will help to discourage residents from owning vehicles which have a greater impact on the environment and encourage residents to own vehicles which have a lesser impact on the environment," a North Sydney report said.

The report does not consider whether a $44 increase in parking levies will discourage motorists from buying such expensive cars. But the council's basic tenet is: the larger the car engine, the more fuel consumed, the more greenhouse gases emitted.

The logic is backed by the president of the Australasian Society of Automotive Engineers, Professor Harry Watson, who also points his finger at diesel engines - more often found in 4WDs than in cars - because they give off the troublesome "particulates" that can cause respiratory problems. .

North Sydney's measure does not take into account the type of fuel used - simply the amount used and the Greenhouse Office's ratings. That means a Cherokee Sport would be charged the standard fee, while a big Nissan Patrol would be slapped with the full increase.

WHILE North Sydney is discouraging 4WDs, the Federal Government continues to do the opposite, encouraging sales with its bush-friendly import duty policy. Cars are taxed at 10 per cent, while 4WDs get off with half that duty, making them thousands of dollars more attractive. The Government intended this discount for farmers and those who live on the land, rather than urban mums and dads.

But 4WDs "became the car to buy when you have children", replacing the station wagon of old and contributing to the boom in city numbers, says Con Stavros, a senior marketing lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Stavros says Australia has divided into two groups - pro-4WDs and pro-cars - each with strident views that depend on whether you own one or not. He says 4WDs attract a "brand loyalty" in their owners that survives the increasing rage of, seemingly, everyone else on the road.

The insurer AAMI surveys drivers' attitudes every year, last year asking 1880 of them about 4WDs for the first time. Nearly half said they did not belong in the city, even though three in five 4WD owners surveyed lived in metropolitan areas. A third of them wanted special licences for drivers, 70 per cent of car drivers thought 4WDs were dangerous and a surprising 39 per cent of 4WD drivers agreed with them.

The safety worries have considerable support. Australian crash data suggests three times as many 4WDs than cars roll over in crashes, and they are in 20 per cent more crashes per kilometre travelled. But their occupants are far less likely to die than the occupants of a car in a crash.

The figures, from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, show that just 18 per cent of people injured in crashes involving 4WDs were inside them, while 64 per cent were in a car, 11 per cent were on a motorcycle and 4 per cent were on a bicycle.

Not that environmental or safety concerns have done anything to cool the love affair an increasing number of people have with 4WDs.

In 1996, more than 50,000 4WDs were sold in Australia, not even 8 per cent of the vehicles brought nationally. But that increased by 40 per cent the next year, and the next, until it reached a massive 173,087 new 4WDs on our roads last year. These vehicles now make up 18.1 per cent of the new car market, a 135 per cent increase in just eight years.

Strident opposition to 4WDs in cities, shifting opinions as to their safety, and environmental concerns have done nothing to slow their purchase. North Sydney's new parking scale is unlikely to, either.

Sydney Morning Herald - Wednesday 16 February 2005

Moment of truth for the 4WD

By Bonnie Malkin

Today a plague, tomorrow an endangered species? ... four-wheel-drives line the streets of Mosman yesterday.
Photo: Nick Moir


Manly Council has criticised North Sydney's strict new parking policy, saying it is not tough enough on high impact vehicles.

"I think we have to be even tougher," the Mayor of Manly, Peter Macdonald, said yesterday.

"They need to give more rewards to lower impact vehicles and a higher charge for high impact ones."

On Monday North Sydney Council approved a new policy under which owners of some four-wheel-drive and V8 vehicles will pay double for their parking permits, and owners of cars with lower fuel consumption, such as the Toyota Prius, will pay less.

Dr Macdonald will canvass support for a similar review at Manly. "I would like to see what support there is for it among staff and among councillors."

Willoughby and Parramatta councils will consider similar schemes. A spokesman for Willoughby said: "It is certainly a direction we would look into as there may be some environmental benefits, especially in terms of the incentive it gives people to turn to smaller and greener vehicles."

Parramatta also refused to rule out changes to its parking and permit charges. A spokesman said: "We could be looking at encouraging the smaller vehicles like smart cars."

City of Sydney, Leichhardt, Randwick, Warringah, Woollahra and Waverley councils said they had no plans to change policy. It should not be left to local government to legislate against four-wheel-drives, said the Mayor of Waverley, Peter Moscatt.

"I can understand North Sydney's decision, but it should be at a national level that we do something about these gas guzzlers. The Federal Government really has to look at this."

The Mayor of North Sydney, Genia McCaffery, said the permit changes were not about penalising four-wheel-drives. "It's about fuel consumption and greenhouse gas ratings. It's not about dictating what people should drive. We are just trying to educate the community on the impact they have on the environment."

The director of the University of NSW sustainable transport project, Ken Dobinson, said the plan was sound but would have little positive effect on the environment. "It's not ridiculous but it is probably too narrowly focused. Its impact is going to be minuscule."

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