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Gas prices are widely credited with fueling a surge in small-car sales this year and a decline in large pickup trucks, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
But industry analysts attributed those sales trends to a stale lineup of pickups and the rollout of new small-car models.
John Wolkonowicz, an analyst at industry forecaster Global Insight in Lexington, Mass., predicted that the interest in small cars will ease and that Americans’ appetite for trucks will bounce back.
“You don’t drive small unless you are an environmentalist and all your friends are too,” he said. “I don’t see the small-car craze having any longevity unless gas reaches $7 a gallon, and then it’s a new ballgame.”
But Andrew Coetzee, vice president of product planning for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said more consumers are worried about fuel efficiency and global energy resources, so small cars should continue to grow.
Low prices of small cars makes them attractive to young buyers who have less money to spend than their Baby Boomer parents, Coetzee said.
“Compact cars have grown in price as new safety equipment has been added. That leaves an opportunity for smaller, more affordable entry-level cars,” he said.
Small-car sales have surged 50% this year, to 240,000 through October, spurred on by three distinctively styled models that debuted this year.
In contrast, full-size pickups have hit hard times, falling 10%, to 1.87 million.
Fresh products typically boost sales. So large pickups could see an upswing as new versions of General Motors’ pickups go on sale this month and a redesigned Toyota Tundra is due in February. Without those additions, the newest model, the Nissan Titan, debuted three years ago.
Wolkonowicz said Americans still like trucks, big ones at that, and buy small cars only out of economic necessity.
“Gas prices are a factor, but only for a short time before people go back to buying what they want,” he said. “Driving a small car makes a poverty statement, not a positive statement.”
Full-size pickups, meanwhile, were in the dumpster during the spring and summer, when many Americans were paying more than $3 a gallon.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas says pickups were down mainly because construction and trades workers saw their incomes shrinking and postponed buying.
“The largest factor in the decline of pickup trucks has been the slowdown in the construction and housing markets and higher interest as well as mortgage rates,” he said, adding that buyers who need a large truck for work aren’t going to change vehicles because of gas prices.