Most fuel-hungry SUVs in the UK are bought by people in cities
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By Adam Vaughan

An SUV in London

George Clerk/Getty Images

SUVs in the UK are overwhelmingly bought by people in towns and cities rather than rural areas, with the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea the country’s Range Rover capital.

Despite emitting 25 per cent more carbon dioxide on average than a medium-sized car, SUVs have jumped from nearly 7 per cent of private cars sold in the UK in 2009 to more than 21 per cent in 2018. One recent global analysis found the rise of SUVs last year wiped out the environmental gains from electric cars.

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Now, a new report by environmental charity Possible finds they aren’t even being sold in places where the four-wheel drive and off-roading capabilities of the largest SUV models would be useful.

Between 2018 and 2020, 74 per cent of SUVs were registered to buyers with urban addresses, Department for Transport figures show. For the largest class of SUV models, six of the 10 areas registering most sales were affluent London boroughs, including Kensington and Chelsea. And 1 in 10 private cars registered in that borough were Range Rovers, the highest share in the UK.

“We stood up the old urban folklore about the ‘Chelsea tractor’, and found Kensington and Chelsea is the home of the SUV. Something has been done to persuade people it’s normal to have a 2-tonne truck to do the shopping,” says Andrew Simms at the New Weather Institute, a co-author of the analysis published today.

He says part of the problem is advertising, with SUVs often marketed as a way to protect your family and dominate the road. “The advertising approach has got under people’s fears about living in cities,” he says. Car manufacturers have bigger profit margins on SUVs than other car classes.

Simms and Possible say their findings should lead the government to ban advertising for the most polluting third of cars on sale, which would cover most SUVs. They are also calling on advertising firms to reject briefs for polluting SUVs.

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