Recently the ABC ran a story asking whether there should be government intervention (i.e. tax) of some sort to limit sales of SUVs. This is on the basis that these SUVs are bigger, heavier and more environmentally unfriendly than the cars we used to drive.
Unfortunately, the reality is very different but the car industry, and the leadership of its industry body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, have only themselves to blame for this negative rhetoric. That’s because of this stupid fixation that they’ve had for calling almost every vehicle produced today an SUV. A Sports Utility Vehicle. And, as I’ve written before, this is nonsense. But now it’s potentially coming home to bite them.
The ABC story is predicated on the VFacts figures purporting to show that the SUV share of the market has gone from 16 per cent 20 years ago to 56 per cent today. That’s true, if you subscribe to the view that a Suzuki Ignis is an SUV and therefore identify it in the same bracket as a Ford Everest, for instance. But that’s clearly nonsensical.
The reality is that there is barely a single light, small or medium (FCAI classifications) volume SUV model that qualifies as an SUV. And yet, those three sub-categories account for almost three quarters of all “SUVs” sold in 2023. Cars such as the Toyota Yaris Cross, the Mazda CX5 and the Telsa Model Y, all nominally SUVs, are nothing of the sort. They are estate cars, wagons, hatchbacks etc.
As I’ve made note of in this column previously, the manufacturers have all jumped on this band wagon of adopting the SUV moniker almost across the board in order to try to make consumers feel good about buying a “lifestyle” model. But in the eyes of some commentators, all SUVs are big, heavy brutes that need to be shut down.
The facts reveal a different picture that needs to be spelt out, not by me but by the FCAI and the industry. And, in doing so, they need to reclassify most SUVs as the passenger cars they really are. That will help the right decisions to be made in the future by governments.
Drilling down into VFacts and examining the data properly, it’s clear that all these smaller and medium sized SUVs have gradually replaced the medium and large passenger cars in the market over the last two decades. In 2003, the combination of the Camry, Magna, Commodore and Falcon formed almost 25 per cent of the overall market. They’re all but gone, with just the Camry selling a third of the volume it did back then.
Has replacing those cars with Mazda CX-5s, Toyota RAV4s and Volkswagen Tiguans really been harmful from a weight, size and emissions point of view? I’d argue not on every count. I’d also argue that, contrary to the ABC story, these cars are all safer alternatives to the Commodores and Falcons of the day.
Rip out all these fake SUVs from the statistics and the real SUV market, cars like the Everest, the Toyota Prado and the Land Rover Discovery, has a very similar overall market share to that which they enjoyed in 2003. The overall market has grown by a third over those 20 years, so necessarily the number of larger, proper, SUVs on the road has increased, there’s no doubt. But the picture is very different from the one painted by the ABC.
However, I don’t blame them. The FCAI and the industry have, together, kicked a huge own goal. The mainstream media will mostly look at the statistics they’re given on face value, that’s what has happened here.
For 2024, there’s the opportunity for a reset in the way VFacts is reported. Reclassify the offending vehicles into a subdivision of the passenger car segment, under ‘crossovers’. That’s the terminology that the Americans use for most models of this type of vehicle that don’t have separate chassis.
For instance, the Chevrolet Blazer is a crossover, whereas the Chevrolet Tahoe is an SUV. Their basic rule is that an “SUV” style vehicle with a unibody construction is a crossover whereas one with a chassis is a traditional SUV. That creates some anomalies, but it’s not a bad starting point.
So, use the term crossover under the Passenger Cars umbrella in the VFacts reporting, in the same way that People Movers, and also Sports Cars, are treated. That could then remove much of the heat from the flawed arguments surrounding this supposed massive switch to SUVs.
In the meantime, if some government, state or federal, decides to put a tax levy of any sort on anything called an SUV by the FCAI, you know who to blame.