More families now opting for SUVs
Sports utility vehicles have become the favourite family car, according to figures from the Transport Agency.
Almost one in three new-car purchases in 2011 was an SUV, giving them the largest segment of the market.
The growth in SUV sales has come at the expense of big family cars which, in less than a decade, have gone from being the largest segment of the market to the smallest.
Motor Trade Association marketing manager Ian Stronach said the findings were intriguing given that fuel costs and environmental issues were rising.
People were choosing SUVs for safety and lifestyle reasons: "It's a perception, or self-image ... people like to see themselves in a sportier mode.
"SUVs are the balance between urban chic and rugged individualism. They are the new family transport."
Fairfax motoring editor Dave Moore said developments in fuel efficiency meant many SUVs now had a smaller carbon footprint than many large cars.
"These days it's possible to buy an [SUV] which has a superior fuel economy and smaller carbon footprint than even a family sedan or hatchback."
Environment Minister Nick Smith said an SUV with seven people in it was more efficient than a small car with a single occupant.
"It's pleasing the SUV market is quite focused on fuel efficiency and has improved considerably over the last five years," he said.
Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said people often felt they were getting a better deal when buying an SUV instead of a car, but in the long term the benefits waned with higher running costs.
Consumers needed to be aware of fuel economy.
"Petrol prices are up and expected to continue to rise."
Auckland University sociology lecturer Steve Matthewman said the rise in SUVs could be attributed to people's desire to have the new big thing. "The bigger, flasher, better your car, the bigger, flasher, better you are."
Although SUVs made up the biggest segment of the market, no individual SUV featured in the top five best-selling models last year, with the Toyota Corolla the most popular, ahead of the Suzuki Swift.
In 2011, 29 per cent of sales were SUVs, up from 26 per cent in 2010, while large cars made up just 9 per cent of sales.
Mr Stronach said the trend toward SUVs was an international one throughout developed countries.