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In a year when gas prices topped $4 a gallon and automakers ran to Congress seeking a $25 billion bailout, one would assume that low-margin, fuel-sipping small cars are far outselling big gas-guzzlers. Indeed, seven of the 10 best-selling vehicles so far this year are small cars or sedans that get high gas mileage.
But, according to a Forbes report, when gas prices go up and the economy heads south, “buyers shift … from what they want to what they need,” says Jeff Bartlett, deputy online editor of autos for Consumer Reports. And what many buyers still need are big pickup trucks, such as the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado – the two best-selling vehicles in America so far this year.
The F-150 attracted 473,933 buyers this year, making it the No. 1-selling vehicle for 2008 it’s been the best-selling vehicle in America for 27 years running. Another 431,725 buyers drove off Chevrolet lots in a Silverado.
“The pickups are a solution to a need,” says Bartlett, as those who buy the vehicles use them for their towing, off-road and cargo-hauling capabilities.
What Americans don’t need, however, are gas-guzzlers that don’t serve a purpose. Such is the case for the Nissan Armada, which rolls in at No. 5 among the worst-selling vehicles so far this year. Armada sales are off 49.1% this year compared to last year, with only 14,753 buyers purchasing the big and brawny SUV. It gets a combined 14 mpg.
The pickups don’t do much better on fuel economy, but their utility equates to their enduring, strong sales. Buyers who have a choice between an SUV and a smaller car, however, want good fuel economy, according to a survey Consumer Reports conducted in the summer. That’s why the Armada, Bartlett says, “is losing consumer appeal.”