United Kingdom motor industry statistics show that in the first 10 months of this year sales of 4x4 SUVs, ranging from the tiny Suzuki Jimny to the Toyota Amazon, have increased by 13% to 136,688 registrations. In comparison in the same period, the UK's overall new car market, which includes SUV sales, has risen overall by 0.3%.

Although 4x4 vehicles [a common UK term for SUVs] have had a rough press recently for poor fuel economy and drivers accused of blocking up roads around schools and being aggressive, UK sales are at record levels so far this year.

Al Clarke, head of communications at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: "They are lifestyle vehicles that customers want to buy. Yes, they do get used in towns but equally they are used in the country by people for their work and for leisure.

"Owners do pay more taxes for that privilege. Why pick on 4x4s? You could equally pick on owners of large-engined sports cars. Manufacturers have done a lot of work developing fuel efficient and low emission engines for SUV vehicles and they do not have a bigger road footprint than a big estate car for instance".

The Land Rover Freelander leads the compact SUV sector with a 30% share of the 66,584 total sales. These sales are 4% up for the first 10 months of the year over the same period in 2002.

In the medium SUV sector, sales have increased by 40% to 23,310 units. Leader of the pack is the Nissan X-Trail with a 34% share of the sector.

In the large SUV market, sales are up 15% to 46,794 registrations. Sector leader is the Land Rover Discovery with a 22% share of the market.

In addition, sales of 4x4 pick ups, which are mainly passenger carrying double cabs, show a year on year increase of 36% with 23,692 registrations. Market leader is the Mitsubishi L200 with a 45% share.