Large, heavy SUVs are more popular than ever, with manufacturers like Alfa Romeo turning their back on sports cars to focus on what has been become a very lucrative market. However, SUVs and crossovers could be facing a backlash following a new report on their green credentials by a government-funded energy research body – one that could ultimately lead to the phasing-out of fossil-fuelled vehicles being brought forward to 2030.

In spite of the growing popularity of electric cars, a study by UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) suggests the sales of emissions-intensive SUVs are far outweighing any initial benefits and threaten to ‘sabotage’ the goal of having a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. According to the UKERC, SUVs emit about a quarter more CO2 than a medium-size car and nearly four times more than a medium-sized battery-electric vehicle.

Remarkably, SUVs and crossovers outsell electric cars 37 to one. While electric car registrations have doubled, the SUV craze is stronger still. They made up 21.2 per cent of car sales last year compared to 13.5 per cent in 2017 and 6.6 per cent a decade ago, when even the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai still seemed rather a left-field choice.

Assuming the majority of SUVs leaving showrooms will be on the road for at least a decade, the extra cumulative emissions will total around 8.2 million tons of CO2, UKERC estimates. CO2 emissions had been reducing since the early 2000s, but rose in 2016. The Department for Transport has admitted this could be due to a shift towards registering larger cars with higher emissions.

Professor Jillian Anable, the UKERC’s co-director, said: “The rapid uptake of unnecessarily large and energy-consuming vehicles just in the past few years makes a mockery of UK policy efforts towards the ‘Road to Zero’.”

She added: “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.”

So, will we see buyers turning away from SUVs as climate pressures gain pace? Will smaller cars enjoy a resurgence? Time will tell…