Sports utility vehicles now outsell electric cars in the UK by 37 to one, according to new research.

As a result, overall exhaust emissions from new cars have been increasing, not declining, for the past three years, says the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

Prof Jillian Anable of the UKERC said this made “a mockery” of UK policy.

“Effectively, we have been sleepwalking into the issue,” she said.

“The decarbonisation of the passenger car market can no longer rely on a distant target to stop the sales of conventional engines.

“We must start to phase out the most polluting vehicles immediately.

“It is time to enact a strong set of regulations to transform the entire car market towards ultra-low carbon, rather than focusing solely on the uptake of electric vehicles.”

Over the past four years, there have been 1.8 million SUV sales, compared to a total of 47,000 for battery electric vehicles (BEV).

In 2018, SUVs accounted for 21.2 per cent of new car sales, up from 13.5 per cent three years earlier.

However, BEV sales are coming from a low base, as the technology is still relatively new.

“SUVs are larger and heavier than a standard car, emitting about a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car and nearly four times more than a medium-sized battery electric vehicle,” said the UKERC.

“Assuming the majority of these SUVs will be on UK roads for at least a decade, it is estimated the extra cumulative emissions to total around 8.2 million tons of CO2.”

All-electric vehicles still represent only a fraction of total car sales.

The UKERC said they remained at less than one per cent of new car sales in 2019.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “It’s important to remember that the SUV trend has been developing for around two decades, arguably really taking off in the mid-2000s, whereas the electric vehicle (EV) market is only just beginning to accelerate as battery technology improves, along with the availability of public charge points.

“As a result, there are some very strong EV sports utility vehicles on sale now.”

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