Gas-guzzling “Chelsea Tractors” or SUVs have suffered a sudden decline in sales after a succession of threatened tax rises, The Times reports today. Existing owners of 4x4s are facing substantial losses because the second-hand value of the vehicles has also dropped significantly.

Sales of new 4x4s fell by more than 15 per cent last month compared with November 2005, and have fallen in every month this year except March. Sales in the year to date are down 6 per cent compared with growth of 4 per cent last year. By contrast, sales of small cars and people carriers are up significantly.

Until this year the market for 4x4s had had a decade of uninterrupted growth, with sales more than doubling from 78,000 in 1996 to 187,000 last year. Motoring groups blame this year’s decline partly on growing public resentment of 4×4 drivers, a sentiment whipped up by environmental groups. The Government and local authorities have also sent signals to motorists that large, fuel-inefficient vehicles will be penalised with extra taxes.

In March, the Chancellor introduced a new top rate of vehicle excise duty of £215 for the most polluting cars. The rate applies to band G vehicles, which emit more than 225g of carbon dioxide per kilometre. These include the BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Shogun and Toyota Land Cruiser. They are also going to get hit by higher fuel duty announced today by the chancellor.

Sian Berry, co-ordinator of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, said the group’s campaigning appeared to have succeeded. “But there is a hard core who don’t care about the environmental impact or the hazard they pose to pedestrians and cyclists.”