Anti 4×4 and SUV sentiment is being supported by a system of penalties being charged for importing polluting vehicles by the government. In a report by 24 Heures, importers of cars into Switzerland last year paid penalties of over CHF 5 million to the government for importing large polluting vehicles such as 4x4s. The penalties are calculated according to CO2 emissions levels and apply to new vehicles that emit more than the current European standard of 130g/km. Importers are claiming that the fines are unjust and merely encourage the growth of the parallel or grey market. There is some truth in this assertion. To escape the penalties, currently all a Swiss resident with a penchant for a polluting vehicle need do is buy one abroad and wait six months before importing and registering it.
Nevertheless despite the penalty system, the number of 4 x 4s on the country’s roads continues to grow and has now reached 25% of all passenger cars. Some of these 4 x 4s are not SUVs but rather sedans with 4 x 4 capability. Criticism of some larger SUVs and other high polluting vehicles has been growing in recent years despite the failure of an initiative in 2010 to have them banned. Critics highlight the fuel waste caused by the extra weight of the 4 x 4 kit which is rarely if ever used by most drivers. Promoters of the campaign to ban urban SUVs and high polluting cars refer to them as “anti-social” vehicles also citing them as more dangerous to pedestrians and drivers of small cars than normal sized vehicles. Even the automobile advertising industry is looking askance at the rise of the large urban SUV with Smart car’s award-winning adverts parodying their unsuitability for in-town parking.
So what does this mean for the environment? At first take it means that people who want to buy a car that does not meet the 130g/km standard will pay more as importers pass on the penalties to their customers. The basic laws of economics would dictate that this would lead to a decrease in sales of these cars. But if it were only that simple. BMW announced its results this week and warned that “the pace at which earnings increase will be influenced by high levels of expenditure for new technologies (and) the development of new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions in line with increasing regulatory requirements”. It is stating that it will make less money as it invests in reducing the emissions levels of its cars. If it succeeds and if other manufacturers of high emission vehicles are as rational as BMW then they will do the same. This means that their future imports into Switzerland will avoid incurring government penalties. But the market will still want vehicles that are unnecessarily big, have rarely used 4 x 4 kits and so burn more fuel than they actually need to. Overall it is a net gain to society and the environment, but it will be a gain that could be so much more. That is unless the government rightly lifts the emissions bar again.
Dear Sir – If you are discussing emissions you seem to not realise and or discuss the effect of a battery driven vehicle on the environment . If you are concerned about the impact on nature maybe this is where you should start( the batteries are NOT recyclyable and creates huge dumping risks ) as opposed to the general concentration on emissions of cars ( 0,2 % estimated contribution to pollution out there ) notwithstanding the fact that Battery cars are in general heavier than most of fossil fuel vehicles of the same size . if hunting for emission Go to big industry , factories and those who pay the political lobbies , to find emission polution.
what is however confusing is your reference to importation emission charges – in the view of many it is there as a protection scheme FOR big industry as opposed to the private importer of a new car- ( if you have checked the rate is different as big car importers have negotiated lower rates …)
( for the record 4 wd and 4×4 systems are different and do not fall in the same category )
Jeremy McTeague says
You make a very good point about the ecological cost of batteries, My point in the article though was to highlight the needless waste of fuel but this of course does not diminish your point. You are correct to explain the difference between 4 WD and 4 x 4 systems. I did not want the article to become too technical but to provoke thought. Your point about cars only creating 0.2% of carbon emissions is debatable. While construction, industrial and household power consumption account for most emissions, vehicle emissions are still a significant pollution. We need to reduce emissions on every front. I’d welcome any inputs you may wish to offer regarding environmental protection in Switzerland.
Another often overlooked issue with electric vehicles is that they will often be consuming “dirty” electricity. For example driving an electric car in Australia, which produces most of it electricity by burning coal, would be effectively like switching your car from petrol to highly polluting coal. For electric cars to make sense we first need abundant “clean” electricity.
Jeremy McTeague says
Another very good point. Thankfully in Switzerland a significant percentage of the country’s power is generated by wonderful hydro and less wonderful nuclear (but a source still cleaner than fossil fuels). Also Switzerland is investing heavily in the development of Fusion power — a really clean source. It’ll still be a couple of decades until that comes on line though.
Rather than clouding the issue by crudely generalising that all those who drive 4X4s don’t need them, why not focus on emissions.
The Nissan Qashqai 4×4 emits 129g of CO2 per kilometre while the non-4×4 Vauxhall VXR8 GTS 6.2 V8 emits 373g of CO2 per kilometre.
According to one list the worst 5 CO2 offenders are:
– Lamborghini Aventador LP-4 Roadster – 398g per kilometre
– Bentley Mulsanne Sedan – 393g per kilometre
– Aston Martin V12 Vantage V12 Roadster – 388g per kilometre
– Maserati GranCabrio 4.7 V8 MC Stradale Auto – 377 per kilometre
– Vauxhall VXR8 GTS 6.2 V8 576 Auto – 373 per kilometre
None are SUVs and only the Lamborghini is a 4×4.
Some people with families need vehicles with more than 4 or 5 seats and many have to navigate snow covered roads in winter. Sure many don’t but that’s why a focus on CO2 emissions is better.
Jeremy McTeague says
The article is focusing on the emissions issue. If a 4 x 4 kit weighs 100kg then that requires additional fuel to carry it around. If the kit is only rarely used then that is a lot of fuel being wasted. Your point about other non 4 x 4 cars being wasteful is entirely valid and I agree that action needs to be taken to reduce the emissions of these cars as well.