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As British taxes target gas guzzlers, sales of greener cars double

Driving a big car in London could set you back $10,000.

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Driving an SUV in Britain already has a certain stigma, thanks to a growing climate-change clamor. But now it's set to become wildly expensive in addition to uncool.

London mayor Ken Livingstone intends next year to triple the daily toll on driving in the city for gas guzzlers – or "Chelsea tractors" as they are sniffily known – to $50 a day. He also plans to scrap a residents' exemption, meaning that instead of paying about $350 annually, locals who drive cars over a certain engine size could be hit for $10,000.

"This new charge will try to affect the choices people make in terms of the cars they are buying," says a spokesman for Mayor Livingstone.

Indeed, amid a number of current and planned measures targeting gas guzzlers across Britain, sales of environmentally friendlier cars are rising dramatically. Figures provided by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), an industry association, show that more than 9,500 were sold in the first six months of 2007 – more than for the whole of 2006.

"The market has doubled this year," says SMMT economics manager Matthew Croucher. "This is in response to a number of things – manufacturers trying to lower their CO2 performance, taxation issues, vehicle excise duty [road tax] and road tolling and congestion charges.

Also it seems people are trying to go green because of some personal belief, acting to try and reduce their carbon footprint."

London's mayor is not alone in targeting big engines. In west London, Richmond earlier this year hiked an annual levy on parking permits for SUVs to $600, an approach that is being aped in other London boroughs and districts.

At the other end of the scale, some districts like Westminster in the heart of London have brought in free parking for environmentally friendlier cars. When it comes to national road taxes meanwhile, greener vehicles pay a negligible fee, while thirsty new cars are stung for $600.


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