It’s making our city streets more polluted, more congested, more dangerous, and it is destroying our climate goals.
Large utes and SUVs are big money makers for manufacturers. They have much higher profit margins than regular cars, so car companies have increasingly pushed them to consumers around the world.
And guess what? It's working.
Globally, SUV sales have risen from 20% to 46% of all car sales in the last decade. And this rise has been well-documented to be devastating to our climate targets. In our own little part of the world, the situation is much worse.
In New Zealand, SUV sales have jumped over 700% since 2009.
They now more than double the sales of regular cars. And those figures don’t even include the most popular cars in the country, like the Range Rover, the Toyota Hilux, and the Mitsubishi Triton, which are classed as Light Commercial Vehicles due to their enormous size.
In that same timeframe, sales of these vehicles have more than tripled.
Car advertisements now almost universally depict huge vehicles, driving over mountain ranges and through rivers in gorgeous rural landscapes. But most SUVs and utes are driven in urban environments.
Perhaps you have noticed this yourself. Cars with big badass names like DEFENDER, RANGE ROVER, OUTLANDER, and DISCOVERY are parked up outside cafés on Ponsonby Road and dropping kids off at kindergarten.
What are they DISCOVERING in Herne Bay? What are they DEFENDING in Fendalton, or Seatoun? What RANGES are they ROVING?
Why We must End Urban SUVs
- Fatal bicycle crash rates have risen 50% over the past decade.
- “SUVs tend to knock riders down, where they can also be run over, rather than vaulting them onto the hood of the vehicle.”
- Head injuries are 63% more severe for cyclists hit by SUVs.
- Trauma to the body is 55% higher for cyclists hit by SUVs.
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2023) https://www.iihs.org/news/detail/higher-point-of-impact-makes-suv-crashes-more-dangerous-for-cyclists
- Children are eight times more likely to die when hit by an SUV compared to other types of passenger vehicles.
- Motor vehicle crashes are now the leading killer of American children.
- Pedestrians in general are 237% more likely to die when hit by an SUV.
Source: Journal of Safety Research (2022) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022437522000810?via%3Dihub
- Vehicle type is a much more important predictor of death than safety ratings in SUV versus passenger car head-on crashes.
- In head-on crashes between SUVs and passenger cars, the odds of death are 7.64 times higher for the driver of the passenger car.
- If the passenger car has a higher safety rating than the SUV, the passenger car driver's odds of death are still 4.52 times higher.
Source: HCA Healthcare Journal of Medicine (2021) https://scholarlycommons.hcahealthcare.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1181&context=hcahealthcarejournal
Likewise, there are innumerable studies and publications, both here and abroad, detailing the outsized emissions of these bigger, heavier vehicles, and the effect these emissions are having on the climate crisis.
Some fun facts from the articles linked above:
And that is a massive problem
We have made a number of commitments to reduce our emissions to net zero, including our own Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and perhaps more importantly, the binding commitment we made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Under the latter, we have committed to reducing our emissions by 50% by 2030. Currently, we are failing. Badly. Under the agreement, if we miss these targets, we could be on the hook for a bill to the tune of $24 BILLION.
New Zealand's climate policies and action are rated HIGHLY INSUFFICIENT on carbontracker.org. That puts us in the same group as India, China, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. So much for clean and green.
Clearly a lot more decarbonising needs to be done, and fast, if we are to avoid the devastating economic, geopolitical, social, and environmental consequences of our failure to respond appropriately to the climate crisis. So what is one of the easiest sectors to rapidly decarbonise? Transport.
In 2021 the Clean Car Discount Scheme (aka the “Ute Tax”) was introduced, discounting low emission vehicles, and adding a fee to the big polluters.
Unfortunately this policy is failing to achieve the desired result. Carbon intensive cars continue to make up most of the top-seller list. And there is a clear reason for this.
The maximum fee of $6900 (previously $5175) is simply nowhere near high enough to significantly impact the sales of these vehicles.
As we have mentioned, the profit margin is wide, and some companies have simply chosen to eat the cost themselves, as the economics still make sense.
Secondly, many new luxury SUVs are so expensive that the extra cost is negligible to buyers. A new Range Rover costs $214,900. A luxury Bentley can cost upwards of $400,000.
Why on earth does the maximum fee cap out at $6900?
Until the fee is proportionate to the retail price, the government does not appear serious about reducing the sales of these vehicles. It is simply getting a cut.
What We're Doing About it
The End Urban SUVs campaign will have a long-term, multi-faceted strategy. This is essential if we want to make the goal in our name a reality. First, we want to start a conversation around the huge emissions and air pollution from the vehicles that are driving around our neighbourhoods. The government, with its soft-touch, hands-off approach to the decarbonisation of our transport sector, has created a handy tool to gently encourage people to make the right choice when purchasing a vehicle. At rightcar.govt.nz, you can enter the number plate of any vehicle, and it will show you its make and model, as well as a number of safety and environmental ratings. This includes its carbon emissions rating. Since the government has been kind enough to provide this data, we thought we might help them get the word out.
One of our sticker designs
Coming Soon: Emissions Rating Bumper Stickers
We have designed a number of bumper stickers correlating to the worst carbon emissions ratings of some of our most popular SUVs. We hope this will be informative for their owners and the public at large.
If you have some of these bumper stickers in your possession, the process is simple.
Next time you see a big hulking SUV or double-cab ute where it shouldn’t be, get out your phone and look up the number plate on rightcar.govt.nz
Peel off the corresponding emissions rating sticker, place it somewhere visible on the bumper, and walk away.
Congratulations! You’ve raised awareness about the terrible emissions ratings of these machines!
Things to Avoid
For this action we are primarily targeting newer, private, high-end vehicles, i.e. ones bought by those who have the means to make more sensible decisions. For these reasons and others, we recommend you avoid: