Thursday, April 12, 2007

Large 4x4s aren't Required in the Mountains Either!

We received the following letter from Jon, a supporter who doesn't really think large 4x4s are required in the mountains.

"I live at nearly 1,000 metres on a mountain that measures nearly 3,000m in the French Pyrenees. I drive a regular domestic car that I fit with snow tyres each winter and I have to carry chains at all times but for most people here 4x4s are not essential - the roads are either clear and safe for all vehicles or un-passable for any (enforced). There is rarely any road scenario that demands a special vehicle.

The only people here who do actually drive 4x4s are people who need to go off road: local farmers, ski station workers, engineers and similar. Most locals do not see any kudos in a large vehicle and they are difficult to manage on narrow mountain roads so only people who really need them want them.

Of course, as soon as winter comes then the number of 4x4s on local roads increases dramatically, not because of the arrival of snow but because of the arrival of tourists who seem to think they need their big 4x4s to accommodate their one or two week annual vacation in the mountains. The fact that they don't see the irony in being skiers and drivers of gas guzzlers bewilders me.

It must feel wonderful to them [4x4 drivers] when they can finally use their huge cars in scenery that actually looks like the scenery in the television adverts - perhaps they then feel they have justified their choice of car. The locals just giggle when they bash them on the walls of the narrow village roads (which need extra care when you are driving a normal car) or get stuck and need help reversing back out of a road that is too narrow.

When you live in an environment like this and see how most people manage without anything more than chains and specialist tyres then the type of London Range Rover owner who boasts that his wonderful 4x4 helps him through the difficult terrain of the M25 during December makes you want to laugh (or perhaps cry?)

The thing that really worries me is the fuel consumption on mountain roads; the fuel figures you see advertised are for flat roads. Ever considered how much energy it takes to haul 3 tonnes of 4x4 up a 10 to 15 percent gradient? Perhaps it is a good thing that the tourists only drive their 4x4s in the mountains one week in each year."