'Townie tank' drivers were offered a menu of muddy looks, including 'Surrey Slurry' and 'Gloucestershire Gunk', to help pass their vehicle off as one of the minority of 4x4s which are actually used for their intended purpose – going off-road. A fish4cars on-line survey in October 2001, revealed that 62 per cent of urban 4×4 drivers never go off-road; the most common use for 4x4s is for short "urban drives", such as trips to the shops (see www.fish4cars.co.uk).
Alliance supporters held 'mudwashes' in London Chelsea and Richmond, Manchester, Reading, Basingstoke and Coventry as well as Birmingham. The free service was sure to go down a treat with wannabe wilderness adventurers, especially as some suburbanite 4×4 drivers are known to be paying £7.95 for 75cl bottles of spray-on mud to make their vehicles look more authentic. The product, 'Sprayonmud', was developed by Colin Dowse, a businessman and web designer from Shropshire. "Spray-On Mud is an urban camouflage designed to give the impression that you are a serious off-roader," Dowse told Cox News Service (17th June 2005). The spray-on mud is real dirt, strained to remove stones and other debris, mixed with water and a 'secret ingredient' that helps it stick to the vehicle's bodywork. Incredibly, Sprayonmud is selling really well: Dowse can barely keep up with Internet sales of the product (check out www.sprayonmud.com).
Large off-roaders' chunky design, weight and engine size make them unsuitable for urban motoring. Besides intimidating other road users, big 4x4s pollute far more than equivalent saloon cars and estates, emitting higher quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, human emissions of which are believed to be causing global climate change. Around two-thirds of 4x4s sold in the UK are diesel models which, although marginally more fuel efficient than their petrol counterparts, emit more of the pollution that reduces urban air quality.
While on the look out for suspiciously spotless 4x4s, our campaigners invited members of the public to sign a petition to the Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling, calling for new measures aimed at bringing a little sanity back into the car market. Higher rates for residential parking permits for the most polluting cars and reclassifying 4x4s for company tax purposes are a couple of possibilities, but one of the simplest measures would be to reform Graduated Vehicle Excise Duty (GVED or 'Road Tax').
GVED bands are currently based on emissions of carbon dioxide (for newer vehicles) or engine size (for older vehicles). However, the difference between the highest and lowest tax bands is just £115 and the Department for Transport's own research has shown that GVED does not go far enough to affect people's choice of car (a difference between tax bands of £150 a year, as well as a new 'G' band, is needed to make a difference). Currently, a Vauxhall Astra Estate pays the same GVED as a 4.0 litre Land Rover Discovery, even though the latter churns out over twice as much carbon dioxide.
In May, Norman Baker MP (Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary) put forward a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM 146) urging the Government to make GVED better reflect associated vehicle emissions; groups supporting this proposal now include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Transport 2000, the Energy Saving Trust and the Sustainable Development Commission.
The Alliance seeks to educate people about the environmental and social impacts of the rising numbers of large urban 4x4s, as well as promote sustainable transport. You can sign the Alliance's petition and find out more about the campaign on-line at www.stopurban4x4s.org.uk.