SUVs and off-road vehicles divide society: for some, they are senseless fuel-eating street monsters, while for others they are an expression of personal freedom, and more comfortable for driving off-road or with lots of people and equipment.
But despite all the debates, the sale of SUVs and off-road vehicles is booming in Germany, as figures from the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) in Flensburg show.
This year more than one million of these vehicles have been newly registered.
Already in November, there were a total of 1.03 million SUVs and off-road vehicles registered since the start of the year. That’s 18 percent more than in the same period last year.
By the end of the year, the figure should rise to around 1.1 million. By 2015, the two segments together had only amounted to around 600,000 new vehicles.
‘Tank like vehicles’
Calls throughout Germany grew to ban SUVs from the centre of cities after a 42-year-old man driving a heavy Porsche SUV killed four pedestrians, including a three-year-old boy, and injured five others.
“Such tank-like cars don't belong in the city,” said Stephan von Dassel, district mayor of Berlin-Mitte at the weekend, adding that even a small driving mistake in one poses a danger to people's lives.
A vigil was set up after the Berlin crash. Photo: DPA
SUVs and off-road vehicles will continue to show the highest growth in KBA's new registration statistics this year.
With a market share of just under 31 percent in the first eleven months of 2019, they now account for almost a third of new passenger car registrations in Germany.
Classic models, on the other hand, are on the retreat, from small cars to luxury cars. Only the Mini-Vans, Utilities, Motorhomes and Sports Car segments are also growing in popularity – albeit at a slower pace.
“The high pace of SUV sales will continue in the coming years,” predicts industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, who had already predicted that the million-euro mark would be crossed.
“There is no sign of a trend reversal, as can be seen from a comparison with other car markets,” he emphasizes. “If the SUV segment continues to grow at the high pace of the past 10 years, more than 50 percent of new registrations will be SUVs by 2025.”
The biggest beneficiaries of the SUV and off-road vehicle boom in Germany are the German manufacturers and their subsidiaries.
In the first eleven months, VW sold the most vehicles from the two segments in Germany with almost 170,000, followed by BMW with 93,000, Audi with 76,000, Ford with 70,000 and Mercedes with 66,000, followed by Seat Opel and Skoda.
Since the vehicles are usually somewhat more expensive than comparable classic cars, this is also financially worthwhile for the companies.
“The trend towards SUVs is an absurd aberration in times of climate crisis,” said Ingrid Remmers, spokeswoman on transport policy for the Left (Die Linke) in the Bundestag.
“Such a vehicle swallows too much fuel, blows out too many pollutants, represents a higher safety risk and takes up too much space on chronically congested roads.”
Stephan Kühn, spokesman for the Green Party's transport policy in the Bundestag, also slammed the boom.
“Car manufacturers who focus their portfolios on such climate killers are torpedoing climate protection,” he said.
“In order to get a grip on the sprawling registration figures for SUVs and off-road vehicles, we finally need a higher motor vehicle tax for heavy fuel guzzlers, with which the purchase premium for emission-free and in particular small e-cars can be counter-financed.”
The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) defended SUVs.
SUVs are not “gas guzzlers”, they said, but very efficient” and emit only about as much CO2 per kilometre as a medium-sized car.
“The popularity of off-road vehicles and SUVs is not a German phenomenon, but a global one,” says a spokesperson.
He attributes the high demand to the fact that SUVs have “considerable advantages from the customer's point of view”.
The VDA also stressed that that more customers are turning to electric or hybrid vehicles: “As diesel, plug-in hybrid or battery electric, the SUV makes a considerable contribution to climate protection and CO2 reduction,” they said.
However, despite subsidies, electric cars and plug-in hybrids are still clearly in the minority in Germany. From January to November, 97,301 of these vehicles were newly registered. Only a handful of them them were SUVs or off-road vehicles.