Land Rover expects to sell up to 1,500 of its new Freelander 2 car by the end of the year even though it does not go on sale until next week.
The Solihull company made the claim as it reacted angrily to a claim in a national newspaper yesterday that sales of "gas-guzzling" 4x4s had slumped because motorists fear big tax rises on vehicles deemed to be environmentally unfriendly.
Figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers seemed at first glance yesterday to back up the claim.
The trade body said 4x4 sales had indeed fallen – by 5.5 per cent to 164,641 units in the first 11 months of the year. But it stressed that more than half of the decline was due to model changeovers of some best sellers like the Freelanders and the Honda CRV.
"The fact is that sales of Range Rover are 12 per cent up this so far, Range Rover Sport is 65 per cent up and Discovery is nine per cent up," Land Rover spokesman Mark Foster said.
"Total sales for the year will probably be slightly down because we stopped production of the old Freelander, the country's best-selling 4x4, in July and so sales are down by 25 per cent.
"But Freelander 2 goes on sale next week and we expect to sell between 1,000 and 1,500 by the end of the year."
Overall, new registrations fell by two per cent to 155,315 units in November, the SMMT announced yesterday. That equates to 3,159 cars leaving the showrooms. It meant sales for the year so far were 3.1 per cent down at 2,211,054, a shortfall of 71,797 over the same period of 2005.
SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said that environmental considerations were "rising up the agenda" for buyers of new cars.
"Lower fuel consumption and emissions are now as important for many people as safety features and price.
"The good news is that manufacturers are bringing many new technologies to market and improving the performance of cars with traditional petrol and diesel powertrains.
"In addition we are providing more information to guide buyers, like the new car green label."
The demand for new cars from private buyers was flat for the third month running but this generally reflects the subdued nature of the market, the SMMT said.
"Cost pressure on consumers continues to influence their ability to purchase new cars because of concerns over mortgage rate, council tax and utility costs rising," the monthly report said.
Fleet and business demand combined fell by 2.6 per cent over the first 11 months.
The SMMT is forecasting an out-turn of 2.345 million units for the whole of 2006, the lowest for six years. It has pencilled in a figure of 2.315 million units for 2007, or 1.3 per cent less than this year.
Land Rover sales dipped by 5.75 per cent to 2,784 in November – largely because of the absence of Freelander from its model line-up – and were 1.07 per cent down at 40,907 year to date.
Jaguar, Land Rover's sister company in Ford's Premier Automotive Group stable of luxury European brands, saw its sales fall by 16.88 per cent to 1,280 last month and by 11.58 per cent to 24,672 on the year so far.