UK new car registrations fell 2.0% year on year to 155,315 in November. Year to date sales were off 3.1% at 2,211,054 amid signs state and local government penalties against gas-guzzling SUVs and other vehicle types are beginning to bite.

Without providing detailed data, the SMMT said 4x4 dual purpose (SUV) vehicle volumes have dipped by 9,598 units year-to-date with only "more than half of this" attributable to the model changeover of best sellers like the Honda CRV and the Land Rover Freelander.

The UK automakers group also noted that, between 1997 (when the present Labour government came to power and SMMT first recorded new car CO2 data) and 2005, the market has seen a major shift towards lower CO2-emitting cars.

In 1997 only 7.8% of the market was under 150gkm (bands A - C of the grades used to levy annual vehicle tax), compared with 34.1% in 2005.

Additionally, only 8.1% of the market was over 225g/km ('G' band) in 2005, compared to 12.8% in 1997.

"There is no doubt that environmental factors are rising up the agenda for new car buyers," said SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan.

"Lower fuel consumption and emissions are now as important for many people as safety features and price.

"The good news is that manufacturers are bringing many new technologies to market and improving the performance of cars with traditional petrol and diesel powertrains. In addition we are providing more information to guide buyers, like the new car green label."

As well as the central government CO2 emissions-based annual car tax, London's anti-car mayor, Ken Livingston, has proposed tripling the city's business day congestion charge for high CO2 emitters and a London borough recently proposed a tripled charge for on-street residential parking for such vehicles.

While the C-segment Ford Focus remained the number one best seller in both the month and year-to-date, the rise in B-segment supermini demand in November, up 13.3%, was significant, the SMMT said. The arrival of several new models has helped boost growth.

Supermini growth over the year-to-date has been bettered only by luxury saloon and the MPV (minivan) segments improvements. The Vauxhall (Opel) Zafira seven-seater is now a regular among the top 10 sellers.

Diesel demand fell for the first time in November since April though penetration remained strong at 42% in November - the highest level recorded this year.

Demand for diesel-powered cars was still up 2.1% year-to-date.

"November new car registrations were in line with expectations and the market remains on track to achieve our full year forecast," the SMMT said.

But it cautioned: "A 2.345m unit full year market would be the lowest in six years.

"December last year was very strong due to regulatory changes that brought forward demand for new diesel models. It remains to be seen quite how the 2006 market will perform. A December drop of around 13% is currently expected.

"The market is expected to edge down to 2.315m units in 2007, a decline of 1.3% on the expected 2006 figure."

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