In an age of rising petrol costs and environmental awareness, SUVs are the top choice for new car buyers.

Figures released by the New Zealand Transport Agency show Sport Utility Vehicle (SUVs) now take up the largest segment of the local new car buyer market.

SUVs now dominate the market, enjoying a 29 per cent share after 18,684 models were sold in 2011.

This meant new car buyers were driving home models such as the Toyota Highlander, Holden Captiva, Ford Territory, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Santa Fe, among others.


'Small' cars, with engines of 1.5 litres or less, take out the second chunk of the market since being ousted from the top spot by the SUVs.

Motor Trade Association (MTA) marketing and communications general manager Ian Stronach said the shift in buyer preference was "intriguing".

"Especially at a time of rising fuel costs and an increasing focus on environmental issues. More buyers than ever obviously feel that SUVs represent a better option in this regard, but SUVs generally are at the heavier end of the scale, and are not usually renowned for their fuel economy."

He suggested a range of factors, both rational and emotional, could be involved in the buying process.

"What we're seeing is not unique to New Zealand. Many overseas markets are experiencing similar changes. Lifestyle demands and the perceived advantages of SUVs means that they'll continue to dominate markets for the foreseeable future."

Since 2006, large cars have fallen from 17 per cent of the market, while SUVs have grown from 21 per cent.

Mr Stronach said if the trend continued, the days of the large car could be numbered.

"At this stage, it provides a very uncertain future for the traditional large car that's been part of the local lifestyle for so long."

Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association CEO David Vinsen said he had noticed a rise in imported used SUVs as well.

"As you see more and more people buying new SUVS, you'll see more and more people buying used SUVs and vice versa.

"We're seeing an increase in the proportion of SUVs brought in. At the same time there is a trend to more fuel efficient vehicles, so there's a conflicting trend there."

He said for some people, fuel efficiency wasn't the overriding criteria for making car purchases, so SUVs could be popular because of the style, fashion, convenience, space, or room for family.

Kiwis often required multi-use cars, so the raised cars could be chosen because of the ability to tow or use four-wheel drive for difficult terrains, Mr Vinsen said.

"Having an ordinary four-door car or a sedan car with a boot is less convenient than having a hatchback or a big hatchback that is an SUV. It's just about convenience really."