The Times West Virginian

Business

December 22, 2008

Truck, SUV sales on the rise

CHARLESTON — Consumers have shifted gears to trucks and sport utility vehicles, a turnaround from the summer when $4-a-gallon gasoline prices cooled demand for boxy, fuel-gulping automobiles.

With gas prices under $2 for nearly a month, car buyers are veering away from smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles that became the rage earlier this year, local dealers are reporting.

Truck and SUV sales are on the rebound, they say, citing three contributing factors: The dip in gas prices, the winter season and the lingering deals and rebates on larger vehicles.

"People are looking at those cars a little more differently," said Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association. "They buy vehicles based upon their need, particularly in our climate here. Once you have a couple of slick days, people start looking for a vehicle that can handle the weather here.

"The weather has so much influence. Some folks might have gotten rid of their SUVs last year and are now saying, 'Wait a minute. I need this.' "

Plummeting gas prices also have helped fuel interest in bigger vehicles. According to national data, truck sales accounted for 52 percent of all vehicles purchased in November, as gas prices declined. That marks a 3 percent increase from October, when gas prices averaged more than $3 a gallon.

The average gas price in West Virginia today was $1.78 a gallon, according to AAA.

Sales data indicate that most consumers go for fuel-efficient cars, such as hybrids, only when gas prices are sky-high.

When gas prices hit $4 a gallon in July, national sales dropped 73 percent for the Chevy Trailblazer, 65 percent for the Hummer H3 and 21 percent for the Ford F-Series.

But as gas gets cheaper, consumers swing back toward trucks.

In some parts of the country, full-sized Ford F-150s were in such high demand that dealers had to trade them across state lines.

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