Parisians and SUVs
Oct 10, 2005 23:17 PDT
From the LA Times:
And with Eurogas at $7/gallon, it costs only $250 to fill up the Hummer!
SUV Drivers in Paris Get Wind Knocked Out of Them
By Sebastian Rotella Times Staff Writer/Mon Oct 10, 7:55 AM ET/
PARIS --- If the French marauders known as The Deflated waged their
brand of urban subversion in Southern California, the mecca of the sport
utility vehicle, by now they would probably have been jailed, beaten,
shot or at least sued.
But five weeks after the clandestine crew of environmentalists launched
a low-intensity war on SUVs in Paris, there are no casualties to report.
Except, of course, for dozens of deflated gas-guzzling vehicles, said
Sous-Adjudant Marrant (Sub-Warrant Officer Joker), the mysterious,
masked leader of Les Dégonflés.
Under cover of night, Marrant's troops target Jeep Cherokees, Porsche
Cayennes and other four-wheel-drive vehicles parked on the tree-lined
avenues and cobblestoned lanes of wealthy neighborhoods. The
eco-guerrillas deflate tires without damaging them, smear doors with mud
and paste handbills on windshields proclaiming that the vehicles are
dangerous, polluting behemoths that do not belong in the city.
"We use the mud to say that if the owners will not take the
four-wheel-drives to the countryside, we will bring the countryside to
the four-wheel-drives," said Marrant, 28, who uses an alias because
angry drivers deluge his website, http://degonfle.blogg.org with e-mails
threatening mayhem and questioning his manhood.
Although his nom de guerre was inspired by Subcommander Marcos, the
masked Mexican guerrilla revered by leftists, Marrant insists he is not
violent or even particularly serious. "Deflated" is a self-deprecating
name that also means "coward" in French. The group wants to send a
mischievous message while avoiding damage to the vehicles, injury and
prosecution, the thin, mop-haired activist said during an interview in a
corner cafe on the Seine's left bank, longtime turf of radicals and
"We emphasize the comic, the burlesque side," Marrant said with the
earnest, wide-eyed look of a prankster trying to keep a straight face.
"It would be hard to take us to court. We don't slash tires, we deflate
them. Air doesn't cost anything. As for getting cars dirty, that's
nothing. I would plead guilty to that. Our rules are to never run from
the police. And always run from the owners."
The rise of anti-SUV activism in France shows that one man's vandal can
be another man's avenger. The deflators are on the fringe of a movement
that has considerable support at City Hall, which is governed by an
alliance of the Socialist and Green parties.
Christophe Delabre, the president of a French association of SUV owners,
has appeared in a television debate with Marrant, who wore sunglasses, a
baseball cap and a bandanna to conceal his identity. Delabre does not
find his adversary amusing.
"It's comparable to extremism, to discrimination, to inciting hate,"
Delabre said. "You can't stigmatize a category of the population with
impunity under the pretext that they drive a kind of vehicle.... [The
Deflated] put others' lives in danger, and that's unacceptable. It's out
of the question that this kind of action is tolerated in France. I don't
understand how the police can arrest deflators and let them go a few
Although city leaders don't condone vandalism, officials have gone as
far as proposing that Paris ban sport utility vehicles. Deputy Mayor
Denis Baupin, who oversees transportation programs, has called the SUV
"a caricature of a car."
Baupin spoke during a recent rally of about 200 activists at a Jeep
dealership where the manager had agreed to shut down early for the day.
The decision drew cheers from children wearing cow and buffalo masks,
cyclists hoisting bikes triumphantly aloft.
"An SUV is totally useless for Paris," Baupin said in his speech,
blaming the recent devastating hurricanes in the U.S. on climate change
caused by pollution. "The situation is striking: The country that
refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol suffered from a climatic
catastrophe.... We all feel sorry for the dead in New Orleans. But now
maybe the United States should start considering that their development
pattern is not to be repeated worldwide and that it causes environmental
In the United States, sport utility vehicles account for one of every
four automobiles sold, but in France, SUVs represent only about 5% of
the market. The prices are high for middle-class families, but sales
jumped about 20% last year.
Overt official hostility has encouraged antisocial attacks masquerading
as activism, Delabre charged.
"This reflects the impact of the statements made during the last two
years by Mr. Baupin," he said. "He has told anyone listening, and the
media helped him a lot, that four-wheel-drives should be banned. I
criticized him because that kind of talk surprised me coming from an
Like other historic European capitals, Paris struggles with overwhelming
traffic that challenges even the smallest cars and steeliest drivers.
Double-parked delivery trucks block narrow streets. Swarms of
motorcyclists zoom the wrong way on congested boulevards. Parking
garages, impossibly small, seem designed by sadists.
Spurred by the take-back-the-streets attitude of the Greens, City Hall
is trying to discourage cars in favor of mass transit, biking and
walking. In addition, the national government has imposed a new tax on
high-polluting vehicles that works out to about $300 per owner, but
varies depending on emission levels.
And the Deflated are stepping up their stealthy fight. Marrant is
writing a children's song as an anthem for the cause. He also hopes to
record a dance-mix version before Saturday, when activists plan an
international wave of anti-SUV operations --- by daylight, this time ---
in France, Britain, Canada and Australia.
"The point is to focus on consumers," he said, spewing smoke from a
Gaulois cigarette into the haze shrouding the crowded cafe. "We have to
get past the idea that there's always a single, identifiable villain:
the president, the corporation, the chief executive. Our campaign has to
be very marketing, shocking, provocative. I want to make it fashionable
to be anti-4X4."
Marrant is unemployed, though he has dabbled in journalism. His brother
works for a major European corporation. His group numbers about 20, he
said. They come from a mix of middle- and working-class backgrounds and
anti-globalization and environmental groups.
The Deflated have made contact with like-minded activists in the United
States. Marrant is familiar with the U.S. television advertising
campaign that equated buying an SUV with financing Islamic terrorism.
But he finds it too gloomy.
He says the French public supports his group's approach. People send
e-mails asking to participate or suggesting tactics, such as a special
tool the activists now use for lightning-fast deflations.
"It's a kind of key that deflates a tire very fast and completely, in
two seconds," he said. "A mechanic sent an e-mail telling us about it.
He said, 'You can do better than you have been doing.' "
Delabre, meanwhile, fears an eventual confrontation.
"I put myself in the place of an owner of a four-wheel-drive who sees
people messing up his vehicle," he said. "I worry that things will get
out of control. We can't accept that in our fine democracy. People have
died for the freedom we have today."
Claire Rocher and Achrene Sicakyuz in The Times' Paris Bureau
contributed to this report.