Land Rover target of anti gas-guzzler protests

Greenpeace's action against Land Rover and Ford marks the start of what promises to be a summer of protests against "gas-guzzling" 4x4 vehicles in general. Land Rover criticised the group's tactics as naive, misleading and counterproductive - but Greenpeace says it will press the Government to increase vehicle excise duty to £1,000 for vehicles with the highest CO2 emissions.

In May Greenpeace protesters chained themselves to half-built cars on an assembly line at Land Rover's Solihull facility, bringing production to a halt for several hours. Activists went on to chain themselves to finished Land Rover cars at 30 dealerships across the UK in June.

Altogether 28 activists were arrested and bailed pending charges, among them the group's executive director, Stephen Tindale.

In a press statement Mr Tindale accused Land Rover bosses of being "climate criminals". He argued: "They continue to build and sell some of the most polluting and climate-damaging cars around today. Land Rover and Ford [its ultimate parent company] have the know-how and expertise to develop far more fuel-efficient vehicles but are choosing not to."

Greenpeace pledges that this is just the start of its campaign. It has in store more protests at dealerships, lobbying of MPs, "no 4x4s" road signs and fliers to be placed on the windscreen of Land Rover vehicles on the streets.

Climate campaigner Emily Armistead said the aim is to oppose all non-essential 4x4 use, particularly in cities, and that other companies may be targeted. Land Rover was singled out because it is said to make some of the biggest and least efficient vehicles on the market. It is also perceived to promote vehicles for urban use.

In particular, Greenpeace highlights Land Rover's latest launch, the Range Rover Sport, which is promoted for both on- and off-road use. The petrol version achieves only 13.6 miles per gallon in urban use and 18.9mpg on a combined cycle. CO2 emissions work out at 352g/km for the petrol model and 271g/km for diesel. In comparison, average CO2 emissions from new cars sold in the UK last year stood at 171.4g/km.

Ms Armistead pointed to recent figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders showing a much smaller rate of reduction in average CO2 emissions from the UK fleet since 2002. This is attributed in part to increasing customer preference for high fuel-consuming vehicles such as 4x4s, people carriers and sports cars (ENDS Report 363, p 10 ).

As a means of countering this trend, Greenpeace is pressing for a far higher rate of vehicle excise duty (VED) on the most gas-guzzling vehicles.

It proposes that in place of the current £115 differential between the most and least efficient cars, there should be a top rate of £1,000 for any car emitting more than 250g/km CO2. This would net many Land Rover models, in particular those using petrol.

Though radical, Greenpeace's demand chimes with a recommendation made in June by the Government's Energy Saving Trust calling for a much more expensive new top "band G" VED for cars emitting more than 210g/km CO2 to be created for 4x4s and big saloons. Both demands come as the Government is preparing its review of the UK's climate change strategy.

Greenpeace hopes that its actions will spur Land Rover into "diversifying" to make more efficient vehicles and to cease promotional campaigns for 4x4s in large cities.

But corporate reputation experts are sceptical. Jennifer Whitehead of Brand Republic concluded: "Land Rover shows no signs of giving in to Greenpeace's demand that it stop marketing 4x4 vehicles to urban drivers. In fact this campaign might make Land Rover more determined to create campaigns that will help people overcome any guilty feelings they might have about the environmental effects."

Land Rover describes the campaign as "naïve". Corporate communications manager Mark Foster said senior company representatives met with Greenpeace campaigners at a meeting earlier this year after the group wrote to the chairman of Land Rover asking about its efforts to cut CO2 emissions.

Mr Foster said the company explained at the meeting what it is trying to do to cut CO2 emissions, including its programme on hybrid vehicles. It indicated that it wants to do more as resources and development cycles allow. However, he said Greenpeace expressed a wish for the company to cease manufacturing all but one of their models, the Defender. Land Rover, not surprisingly, describes this as "as a fast road to having no business".

"We left the door open for them to come back and have further discussions...that door continues to be open," Mr Foster said. Disrupting production through Greenpeace's "stunt" at Solihull "will not help to achieve anything."

The Transport and General Workers Union also condemned Greenpeace's action as "insensitive and potentially dangerous" coming after the recent closure of sister company Jaguar's Browns Lane plant and mass redundancies at MG Rover.

Land Rover says that the average fuel consumption of its fleet is 30mpg, but it declined to give an average fleet CO2 emissions figure.

A picture of Land Rover's performance in cutting CO2 emissions can be gleaned from Ford's latest corporate responsibility report, but this does not show a convincing downward trend (see table). The figures compare performance against the European car manufacturers' association ACEA, which has pledged its members to work towards reducing average CO2 emissions to 140g/km by 2008.

Land Rover has also been targeted because its chain of ownership leads to motor giant Ford which is a major seller of 4x4s or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) in the USA.

In the UK, Greenpeace claims Ford led moves last year to kill off plans for a CO2 labelling scheme for cars. Ford denies that it was opposed to labelling in principle. It says it felt that it would be better to wait for an EU scheme to come to fruition. Nevertheless, a voluntary UK CO2 labelling scheme for cars was launched earlier this year, with the backing of all car-sellers (ENDS Report 361, p 33 ).

In the USA, Ford along with other members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers last December announced plans to challenge a law passed by the State of California setting stringent limits on CO2 emissions from cars. The action has assumed symbolic importance.

US NGOs, such as the Rainforest Action Network with its "jumpstart Ford" campaign, are also pressing Ford to stop such lobbying and improve its environmental performance. Pressure was stepped up after Ford failed to achieve a target to reduce the emissions of its SUV fleet.

Such actions come at a financially sensitive time for Ford. In May, Standard & Poor reduced Ford stocks to "non-investment" grade citing in particular "plummeting" sales of its SUVs triggered by increasing gasoline prices. At the same time, Ford is facing increasing competition from Japanese car manufacturers - selling smaller SUVs and more car-like, more fuel-efficient crossover utility vehicles.