UAE to ban SUVs by early 2016

Owners of SUVs and 4x4s will be forced to trade their vehicles in for more environmentally friendly hybrid cars, such as Toyota Prius, in a move that has earned both consternation and praise.

Soon motorists could be driving this blue Chevrolet Spark instead of vehicles like the red Hummer limousine. Jeff Topping / The National
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Gotcha! This story may be an April's Fool's Day joke, but it sparked some fantastic debate on the merits of the plan if it were real.

DUBAI // The Government is considering banning SUVs and 4x4s from the nation’s roads in a year’s time under plans to radically slash the country’s carbon emissions while reducing traffic congestion.

If implemented, owners will be forced to trade in their larger vehicles – part of the UAE landscape for decades – for more environmentally friendly hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, in a move that has divided opinion. The plan has prompted an angry backlash from many drivers, who say they will launch a campaign against it. Environmentalists say the move is a step in the right direction.

Under the plan, if brought in, owners of petrol or diesel-driven 4x4s would be given an appropriate hybrid in exchange. The few owners of hybrid 4x4s would be encouraged to trade down a size. It remains unclear what size engine or vehicle will fall under the ban. But failure to surrender the cars will result in a fine. The rule is likely to come into force on April 1 next year.

Exchanges of vehicles must be completed before that date.

The Prius is regarded as one of the world’s most fuel-efficient cars, averaging about 80km a gallon.

By contrast, one of the most popular 4x4s in the UAE, the Toyota Land Cruiser, typically only averages about 24km a gallon. Carbon-dioxide emissions from a Prius are 49 grams a kilometre, while the Land Cruiser pumps out 213g/km.

Hari Das, the sales manager at 4x4 Motors in Dubai, said the move would be a hard sell to residents.

“People here are in love with their 4x4s,” Mr Das said. “If this is really going to happen, we will join with other 4x4 owners in fighting it.”

But he said that the company would continue to monitor the market and, if demand for hybrid cars rose, it would exchange its stock.

“Until now they have not been very popular, but if there is a change there we will respond to it with new stock,” Mr Das said.

David Chambers, the chief executive of Trident Support, owns a Chevrolet Silverado 2500. The truck is bigger than the average SUV, at 2 metres wide, not including wing mirrors, and 5.7 metres long.

Mr Chambers said he would contemplate leaving the country before parting with his beloved Chevy.

“We’re all a bunch of rednecks in Dubai and we love our 4x4s,” he said.

For the past 10 years, 4x4s have proven to be the most popular vehicle by far in terms of sales in the local market. Last year, Mercedes-Benz even launched a 6x6, described as a “monster truck for the road”, for sale locally because of the demand for large cars.

But sales of hybrid cars have been much lower than international averages because of the cheap cost of petrol.

Lexus has had four hybrid car models on sale in Dubai for the past four years, and the cheapest – the CT200 – sells for about Dh166,000.

A spokesman for the company at the Dubai Green Auto Show last year said Lexus had yet to see a big demand for hybrid vehicles.

Robin Mills, author and head of consulting at Manaar Energy in Dubai, said the timing of the move was unusual, although the date of the announcement could be significant.

“With falling oil prices, the burden of the Government on subsidising fuel at the pump has lessened significantly,” Mills said.

“A year ago this would have made sense and saved the government a lot of money in fuel subsidies. However, it does make a lot of sense from the environmental perspective, and would drastically reduce the city’s carbon footprint.”

Andy Whittaker, a British resident who owns a 4x4 and runs the Hot Cog Mountain Biking Club, said he probably would not even accept the free hybrid vehicle.

“I’d like them to take this a step further and ban all cars on the road,” Mr Whittaker said. “That way the environment will become a lot better.

“Dubai could become like Holland, with everyone cycling everywhere. Sheikh Zayed Road could become the world’s longest, biggest cycle path.”