Car shoppers thinking small again

The jolt from rapidly rising gas prices has once-burned Americans stampeding back toward fuel-efficient vehicles.

By doubleace Mar 7, 2011 4:26PM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.


The American car-buying public may have short memories, but they are not slow learners.


Fifty-three percent of car shoppers on say they are more likely to consider a more fuel-efficient car than the one they currently own as a result of rising fuel prices, according to a survey of visitors to the car-shopping and information site in February.


This is higher than the 44% who indicated a desire to find a more fuel-efficient car in a similar survey AutoTrader conducted in August and September of 2008, when gas prices peaked at $4.11. Post continues after video.

Gas prices have been climbing quickly, a surge blamed on unrest in the Middle East. According to the AAA, gas prices nationwide averaged $3.51 on March 7, up from $3.38 a week earlier and $3.12 a month earlier. Prices are expected to reach $4; they are at $3.90 in California already.

"This survey indicates what we expected based on previous gas-price spikes," said AutoTrader president and CEO Chip Perry. "When gas prices rise, interest on our site in smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles increases.”


At, the Web portal for Kelley Blue Book, searches for hybrids and electrics jumped 73% from the weekend of Feb. 19-20 to Feb. 26-27, the Los Angeles Times reported. Traffic to compact cars as a segment blossomed 46% in the same period.


"Among individual models, every compact car we tracked was up a minimum of 20% week-over-week, and the Ford Fiesta jumped 77%," said Jack Nerad, an analyst with the auto information company.

Searches for fuel sippers such as the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Honda Accord each jumped more than 60%. On the hybrid/electric side, individual increases were even more dramatic, he said. The all-electric Nissan Leaf jumped 154%, while the Toyota Prius jumped 86%.

Yet, as recently as October, industry experts said Americans were slipping back into their old habits after the 2008 scare. At that time, for instance, U.S. sales of hybrids had dropped 8% in the previous year.


"Consumers today are not buying cars based on fuel economy," National Automobile Dealers Association chairman Ed Tonkin said then in a speech to auto dealers. "We may wish it were different. But that doesn't change anything.


"The fact is, manufacturers have struggled for years to make money on small cars," he said. "And consumers remain skeptical that small cars are safe."


Said AutoTrader's Perry: "When gas prices go back down, shoppers return to their normal shopping habits. The fact is, a large segment of the American car-shopping public likes and wants larger vehicles to accommodate their auto needs and wants. Consumers consider many things when shopping for a car -- things like style, utility, price, fuel economy and more. The current spike in gas prices has put fuel economy closer to the top of many shoppers' lists right now."


The AutoTrader poll shows that 21% of the survey respondents picked "Strongly Agree" to the statement "I am more likely to consider a more fuel efficient car the next time I am in the market to buy a car based on rising prices." Another 32% picked "Somewhat Agree."


Unlike 2008, however, when the auto industry was caught with a surplus of low-mileage vehicles, it is loaded with gas-stingy cars this time around.


Since then, manufacturers have "responded by bringing out stylish small cars and also by using technology and design solutions to squeeze more miles per gallon out of larger cars," Perry said. "Consumers looking for fuel efficiency in their vehicles today will find many more options than they had in the past."


Ford sales analysis manager George Pipas told Detroit TV station WWJ: "Obviously, we're starting to see a shift toward smaller vehicles, specifically subcompact and compact cars and small utilities."


Pipas said that "higher gas prices are taking away some of the discretionary income that consumers have. … For most things you buy, you get more. That's not true with gas. If you pay more, you get nothing more."


More from MSN Money:


Feb 16, 2012 7:20PM
They s/b thinking small "all the time".  That our problem as Americans are the biggest consumers of gas and oil and the refusal to get off the addiction to fossil fuels that are polluting everything, destroying our environment and costing American taxpayers BILLIONS each year and let us not even get into the WARS we've been fighting over this crap forever while being forced to subsidize the crook OIL COMPANIES who are already worth mega billions and end up paying next to NO federal income taxes but are often getting RETURNS from Uncle Sam while we are on the hook for the majority of their disasters.
I am one of a gas stations worst customers and darn GLAD as I have better things to with my money then stick hundreds a month into my gas tank.
Always have driven gas misers and always WILL and never have lived "out of town" for crazy commutes or have my kids bussed to school so they have to be up at the end of some road out in the "boonies" while it's still dark and are getting home when it's dark.  No THANKS.  People are freaking NUTS who do this and then wonder why we have a fuel crisis?  If we invested in hybrids and electric cars like we should have 30 years ago instead of listening INCREASING our dependence on fossil fuels, not only would these vehicles be plentiful and as cheap as laptop computers, we would'nt be drilling the crap out of the country and our coastlines or be at war with the Middle East over friggin OIL, the environmental disasters we've been dealing with would have been greatly reduced too. 
But who cares about that, eh as "The Gulf is just fine NOW,, the environment can always take care of itself and global warming is a hoax to raise everyone's taxes".  "Keep trying to convince yourselves of that while we';re forced to subsidize the mega BILLION dollar OIL, COAL and GAS industry every year with our taxes as they do whatever they darn well please and render yet another entire ecosystem a total mess because of a major accident for 20 or more years and we foot most of the bill for the clean up or we pay for another war and thousands die in it while the greedy crab about Chevy Volts, Nissan Leafs or those rotten ol' electric cars/hybrids coming off the assembly lines as being too expensive to buy. 
You don't need an SUV or a big fat pick up to do your grocery shopping so if you can't afford a hybrid right now, buy a Chevy Cruze or something similar.  I did and I love it.

Sep 8, 2011 6:23PM
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