Stephen Bayley

Four-wheel-drives are to ISIS what longbows were to the English at Agincourt

Four-wheel-drives are to ISIS what longbows were to the English at Agincourt
Text settings

What exactly, I found myself wondering, would jihadists do without modern four-wheel-drives?

Car ads are customarily shot on the French Riviera's Grande Corniche or on a very particular road in Tuscany that all art directors know. But the sight of 43 brand new and coruscatingly white Toyota Hiluxes rolling across the infernal Syrian-Iraq border added a hard-edge nightmare venue to the ad-man's soft-focus dreamscape.

If there's a micron of comfort to be had from the horrors of the Middle East, it's that the medievalising ISIS has a keen admiration for the consumer goods their despised enemies manufacture. In an earlier conflict, The New York Times called the same Hilux 'the ride of choice' for Somali pirates.

Adapted for war and other atrocities, using various options and accessories not sanctioned by Toyota (including the popular, flatbed-mounted, Soviet-era DShK heavy machine-gun, endearingly known as 'Duskha' for 'sweetie'), the Toyota is known as a 'technical'. That's an abbreviation of 'Technical Assistance Grant', a UN provision which once supplied Toyotas to the Horn of Africa.

Jihadists are as keen as any motorist in discovering the product advantages of their chosen brand. The Hilux is light, fast, manoeuvrable and all but indestructible ('bomb-proof' might not, in this instance, be a happy usage).  The weapons experts Jane's claimed for the Hilux a similar significance to the longbows of Agincourt or the Huey choppers of Nam. A US Army Ranger said the Toyota sure 'kicks the hell out of a Humvee' (referring to the clumsy and over-sized High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle made by AM General).

So has ISIS been doing comparative shopping? Did they consider Land Rovers, but felt them too county and not cool? Do they read What Car?? Was this diabolical product-placement by Toyota? Certainly, ISIS demonstrates Toyota's well-earned reputation for durability and reliability. Unquestionably, the photo showing the Hilux conga-line in the desert had the impact of a high-concept ad.

The fact is the Toyotas were supplied by the US government to the Al Nusra Front as 'non-lethal aid' then 'acquired' by ISIS. The human and military damage they will do is, alas, all too predictable (and so ironic that a truck designated an RV - 'recreational vehicle' - now finds its ultimate application in berserk rampages rather than fishing trips).

But there's commercial damage too. Toyota should be making plans to repossess these trucks before the ugly stain of association becomes indelible. Besides, it would be interesting to see how ISIS coped with the camel.