Today, prospective customers walk into dealerships often knowing far more about the car they want to buy than the poor sod trying to sell it to them; in 1989, they would not have had a clue. So the success of any product tended not to depend on whether it was any good or not but on how many dealers the manufacturer had. So it’s no surprise to discover that Ford, Austin Rover and Vauxhall weren’t just the UK’s best-selling manufacturers, but they also had the most dealers, with 1200, 975 and 681 respectively. Peugeot had 400, Volkswagen had 355 and BMW had a paltry 157. They never stood a chance.
So while we may lament that many people are increasingly choosing cars that are high and heavy, we should celebrate the fact they have reached that decision with at least the option of being in full possession of the facts, and that they simply have different priorities to us. Which is vastly preferable to the situation that was allowed to prevail 30 years ago.
Punching above their weight
The recent debate on the rise of large SUVs in urban areas was sparked by a report that centres on the role of advertising in promoting “false promises of safety and superiority” with such vehicles. It was published by the New Weather Institute, a “think tank” that focuses on a “rapid transition to a fair economy”. The Mindgames on Wheels report claims that large SUVs account for a third of all vehicles sold, three-quarters of them registered to people living in urban areas. It calls for a ban on the advertising of such cars, arguing that “the human health and climate damage done by SUVs is huge and needs to be undone”. While the report does raise some interesting issues, it seems to merge two separate – but often related – issues: the increasing size of cars in general, and the reduced efficiency and higher emissions of some large-engined, less-aerodynamic SUVs. And while talk of an ad ban oversimplifies a nuanced issue, it does raise one intriguing question: are car firms or car buyers responsible for driving the increasing popularity of SUVs? James Attwood
Second opinion – Matt Saunders
Andrew Frankel literally wrote the book that Autocar uses to this day to educate budding road testers about the primacy of fitness for purpose when assessing a new car. But I know where he’s coming from. It’s easier when you can think as an interested driver would, with a close eye on dynamic appeal, when deciding a verdict.