The European market for SUVs seems to be undergoing a period of transition, according to analysts Jato Dynamics which said that manufacturers are now responding to the changing demands of consumers.

Many ‘new-to-the-market’ SUVs are noticeably smaller than the older, established models and many now only offer four-wheel drive as an optional extra.

“Rising fuel costs, the spiralling CO2 debate and the associated social pressures are putting a strain on the SUV segment,” said Jato spokesman Nasir Shah. “While many buyers still have a desire to own these cars, there is a genuine need to make them cheaper to own and run. If not, it will become a segment in serious decline.”

The relationship with off-road vehicles differs in countries across Europe. In the UK particularly, there has been a noticeable backlash against large cars in general and particularly 4x4s. Increased taxation is making them less attractive to both retail customers and fleet operators and the outlook for segment is beginning to look difficult.

Even in Germany where SUVs are still in huge demand thanks to the strong domestic manufacturer products, public opinion is starting to question the impact on key environmental factors.

Judith Studer, research manager for JATO Switzerland, said: “Even in a mountainous country like Switzerland where there’s a really good justification for using an off-road vehicle, the large, thirsty models are starting to find themselves in the firing line. There are critical voices here relating to SUVs and they are starting to get louder.”

Shah is sure that the segment will need to continue to evolve. He said: “Clearly, manufacturers respond to market forces and currently the market is being influenced by both a change in customer requirements as well as European legislation. As long as SUVs are seen to be the environmental bad boys, they will continue to attract the attention of legislators. The recent changes to UK taxation are testament to this and we are confident that other countries will follow suit.”