LONDON -- Environmental activist Sian Berry spends her spare time writing fake parking tickets and putting them under the windshield wipers of SUVs.
Berry and other SUV opponents want to stop Europe from copying the US, where SUVs constituted 27 percent of new vehicles sold through September this year.
"There's a massive trend toward using SUVs as family cars and that's what we're trying to work against," said Berry, 30, who is an active member of the Green Party of England and Wales.
"When I noticed all these cars everywhere, I thought something should be done," she said. "I tried to find an existing campaign but I couldn't find one so I started one myself with the parking tickets."
Berry founded an organization called the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, www.stopurban4x4s.org.uk.
Her group has just printed up 80,000 of the tickets to put on SUVs in six London boroughs.
The tickets accuse SUV owners of a "poor vehicle choice" and tell them they drive a "dirty and dangerous car" that damages the environment.
The tickets can be viewed at www.wastemonsters.org.uk.
"The tickets point out that you should not be driving a 4x4 in the city," said Berry.
The alliance seeks a ban on SUV advertising in cities and a £20 (currently about E30) congestion charge for SUVs in central London (£5 is the normal charge).
London, whose mayor Ken Livingstone called SUV drivers "complete idiots," isn't the only city where SUVs have been the object of action by environmentalists. Efforts to curb their use have been discussed by governments in Paris and Rome.
SUVs are the most controversial vehicles on the road because of their size, poor fuel economy and claims that they are unsafe.
The city of Nijmegen in eastern part of Holland recently chose not to follow up a Green Party-led majority and ban SUVs from public parking.
The proposal called for a ban on SUVs wider than 185cm and longer than 500cm.
The proposal also would have prohibited large luxury cars such as the BMW 7 series and Mercedes-Benz S class, but would have allowed some sport utilities, such as the Lexus RX 300.
The Paris city council proposed a ban on SUVs, but so far it's just a resolution. London's Ken Livingstone wants England's government to increase the excise tax on SUVs.
Said Alan Francis, transport spokesperson for the Green Party of England and Wales: "We believe there should be a purchase tax on new vehicles which is related to their consumption."
Volvo officials were relieved to hear Swedish Finance Minister Per Nuder tell a Swedish auto industry symposium November 10 there probably will not be a special tax on SUVs in Sweden. Hans-Olov Olsson, Volvo CEO, had warned that such a tax might threaten production of Volvos, including the successful XC90, in Sweden.
Despite their image problems, SUVs remain extremely popular with European consumers and one of the auto industry's strongest growth sectors (see box).
Through nine months, SUV sales in western Europe have grown 13.5 percent to 653,128 units compared with the same period last year, according to data from market researcher JATO Dynamics.
"The people who want these vehicles are not turning away from them for social reasons," said Neil Hall, a JATO analyst.
What about minivans?
Auto manufacturers have tried to distance themselves from the SUV label.
"We don't call our cars SUVs," said Rudolf Probst, a spokesman for BMW in Munich. "We call them SAVs [sports activity vehicles]. If you compare an X5 or X3 with an MPV, just for its size, our cars are smaller than some MPVs. Why is there a question about SAVs and SUVs and not MPVs?"
Matthew Taylor, Land Rover's managing director, said anti-SUV campaigners are "misguided, misinformed and distributing misinformation."
He said the new Land Rover Discovery 3 takes up no more space than an Opel Vectra or BMW 5 series wagon.
The height of sport utilities makes them more visible to pedestrians, and he added that the new Discovery 3 has better tailpipe emission figures than a London taxi.
– Wim Oude Weernink contributed