Honda and Toyota, the current dynamic duo in terms of hybrid powertrain technology, developed their current models largely for the American market and their 'green machines' consequently aren't, in real world conditions, any more frugal than a good diesel, Hyundai executives claimed as they launched their rival Santa Fe hybrid SUV 'concept' in Paris.

Combining a 2.4-litre four cylinder petrol engine with a 40hp electric motor will, the automaker claimed, make the Santa Fe the most fuel efficient SUV available. The new in-house-developed hybrid drive system includes a six-speed automatic transmission and lithium-ion batteries.

Hyundai UK marketing director Andrew Cullis said: "The Santa Fe hybrid is realistically capable of averaging 44mpg and achieves ultra-low CO2 emissions of 144g/km. Combine these figures with this vehicle's seven-seat versatility and you have the greenest SUV ever launched."

He said production-ready Santa Fe hybrids could be in European showrooms within a year at the same price as the automatic diesel version. If commercially successful, the hybrid technology is likely to be used on more new models.