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High gas may be choking the big sport utility vehicle industry, but automakers continue to adapt, according to a report in the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss.
Domestic and foreign auto companies are increasingly turning to unibody, car-based SUVs that weigh less, handle better and go easier at the pump than traditional body-on-frame truck-based SUVs – a key tow vehicle for the recreational vehicle industry.
The New York International Auto show became fertile ground this week for introductions of these Earth-friendlier, so-called crossover SUVs. Mazda, Saturn, Acura, Mitsubishi and Suzuki showed production versions of 2007 crossovers.
“Many manufacturers out here were releasing more fuel-efficient SUVs due to gas price increases and (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) regulations and fuel-economy standards,” said Kyle Weber, an automotive researcher with Jato Dynamics. “Consumers see the gas prices, and people do care about the environment, so they care about the emission standards. It’s not going to be the decider in their purchasing plans but it’s beginning to make a difference as we saw SUV sales falling.”
Gas prices jumped 17 cents a gallon nationally in the past two weeks, according the independent Lundberg Survey, pushing past $2.60 a gallon for self-serve regular in many cities.
Ford reported sales of its truck-based Explorer down 24% in March more than a year ago. Sales of Nissan’s Armada – a full-size, truck-framed V8-powered SUV – dropped as well.
But even with all the crossovers shown, some companies brought old-school trucks. Jack Collins, Nissan vice president of product planning, said some buyers always will need truck-based SUVs.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with gas prices – there’s some softening of the (truck and SUV) market, but there’s still call for them. People will always have to tow horse trailers or boats while having room for the whole family,” he said.