Green groups in Switzerland are calling for a ban on four-wheel drive vehicles in urban areas, arguing that they are dangerous and an environmental hazard.
But a new association of vehicle users says it will fight attempts to drive the cars off the road.
Four-wheel drives account for nearly one in five new vehicles sold in Switzerland, but according to motoring organisations the vast majority are used for journeys in and around towns and cities.
Motoring expert Michel Busset estimates that only around five to ten per cent of such cars are regularly used to go off-road.
“And that includes those that are parked on the grass in front of somebody’s home,” he said.
The figures have not escaped the attention of Swiss environmentalists, who say the four-wheel drives – also known as Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) - are unnecessarily clogging up busy roads.
“These four-wheel drives are heavy, pollute more and use energy inefficiently,” said Felix Adank of the Swiss Association for Transport and the Environment (ATE).
The Federal Energy Office, meanwhile, says the popularity of such vehicles is one reason why targets for lowering fuel consumption in Switzerland were missed in 2003.
In Geneva, where traffic is a major problem, Green Party parliamentarian Sylvia Leuenberger has taken matters into her own hands and launched a crusade to ban SUVs from the city.
Similar proposals have been put forward in Paris and London, while a number of Swiss cities are also considering how to get the cars off crowded streets.
Leuenberger argues that four-wheel drives are too dirty and dangerous for pedestrians and other drivers. But she admits that it is unlikely that Geneva will implement a ban.
The ATE agrees that a ban is unrealistic and suggests that there are other ways to coax motorists out of such cars.
“You cannot ban cars from cities and you are better off taxing four-wheel drives or offering fiscal incentives for cars that pollute less,” Adank told swissinfo.
“The Swiss are aware of environmental problems and sooner or later we will have to admit there is no other way of reaching the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol [on greenhouse gas emissions].”
But owners of four-wheel drives say they will resist any attempt to ban their vehicles from the roads.
“The more extreme members of the environmental movement, what I call the ‘Green Taliban’… are calling for anti-democratic measures,” said Jean-Charles Kollros, a founding member of Pro 4x4, a new nationwide association of owners of four-wheel drive cars.
Pro 4x4 says it is up to the automobile industry to produce cleaner and more efficient four-wheel drive cars.
Kollros, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, is concerned that some reckless urban motorists are jeopardising the right of those living in the country to drive such vehicles.
“I don’t see why winegrowers or farmers should be deprived of a useful vehicle because some people do the wrong thing,” he said.
Kollros says his association will fight plans to introduce special licences for owners of four-wheel drives, who he says have been unfairly “demonised”.
“We reckon the environmentalists have got it all wrong. They are just looking for a new political issue to kick around.”
swissinfo, Scott Capper
Four-wheel drives represent 16 per cent of all new cars sold in Switzerland.
Greenpeace says that off-road vehicles emit on average over 35 per cent more carbon dioxide than most cars.
Four-wheel drive vehicles are coming under fire in Switzerland and are considered by some to be too big, too dirty and too dangerous.
Politicians are demanding bans or restrictions on SUVs in some towns or cities.
But motorists are defending their right to drive such vehicles and have vowed to fight plans to ban them.