It was easy for the (mainly electronic) media to jump on the figures released yesterday by the NZ Transport Agency about SUVs being the market's largest vehicle segment, and assume that the public was leaving big cars and opting for gas guzzlers instead.
In 2011 18,684 SUV units were sold against 16,326 units in 2010, which made the segment grow to 29 per cent of the total.
The fact is, it is more than possible to drop your current large car and opt for an SUV that not only has similar space, but also has a better fuel consumption level and a smaller, not larger, footprint.
Take our traditional large car segment leaders. The six-cylinder Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore offer fuel economy levels of at least 9.9L/100km and 8.9L/100km respectively (larger-engined versions of these cars use more fuel correspondingly).
If the punter whose previous drive was one of these cars, he or she can walk across the Ford or Holden showroom and slide into a seven-seater SUV with more space, similar or better safety ratings (passive or active) and - get this - a lower appetite for fuel.
The Ford owner could drive out in Ford's twin-turbo diesel V6 Territory SUV with an 8.2L/km fuel economy rating, while across town, the Holden fan could take a Holden Captiva, another SUV with up to seven seats, that scores from 6.6L/100km.
The same occurs at the Nissan franchise, where the V6 Maxima owner, used to fuel economy figures in the 10.2L/100km area, can leap into an X-Trail and expect figures in the 6.4L/100km bracket.
The X-Trail doesn't have seven seats, so Mr Maxima might have to opt for the Pathfinder SUV instead, with a 9L/100km rating, still less than what they were used to with their old six-cylinder sedan.
The key is that with modern diesels and small-capacity turbopetrol engines, the right choice of SUV often has a smaller carbon footprint than the car of the Green zealot who's about to attach a "Polar Bear Killer" sticker to your vehicle's bumper.
For such people, the cleaner, greener modern SUV or Crossover is an inconvenient truth, just as it was for TV and radio news last night as the usual "Gas Guzzler" and "City Tractor" comments were dusted off for the umpteenth time, upon the release of the NZ Transport Agency's SUV sales figures.
Other inconvenient truths include that most SUVs are shorter than similarly positioned cars and occupy less parking space, and here's one real game-changer: it's possible now to buy a Range Rover Evoque (5.6L/100km and 149g/km) with a smaller consumption/emissions footprint than a Toyota Corolla (7.3L/100km and 171g/km).
So to all intents and purposes, SUV buyers ARE downsizers and unless Holden and Ford offer diesel versions of the Commodore and Falcon, our favourite large cars are all but doomed in the marketplace.
Follow Dave Moore on Twitter - @mooretothepoint
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