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Record Gas Prices Had Little Lasting Impact on Auto Buyers’ Choices

Study says shoppers quickly returned to big trucks, abandoned small cars.

by on Jul.24, 2009

According to conventional wisdom, last year's oil price run-up permanently transformed the U.S. auto market. But after a brief run-up, sales of hybrids and subcompacts have come crashing down, while SUVs and pickups have regained much of their lost ground.

According to conventional wisdom, last year's oil price run-up permanently transformed the U.S. auto market. But after a brief run-up, sales of hybrids and subcompacts have come crashing down, while SUVs and pickups have regained much of their lost ground.

To listen to the media pundits, in recent months, one might come away with the conclusion that had Detroit’s Big Three only been building small cars and abandoned their big pickups and SUVs they’d be in great shape today.  Last year’s oil shock, according to conventional wisdom, had resulted in a massive and permanent shift in American motorists’ buying habits.

Yet again, it seems, conventional wisdom is wrong, at least according to a new study by the research and consulting firm, Experian Automotive.  There’s no question that in the early months of 2008, as fuel prices soared towards $4 a gallon, small car sales were a hot commodity, while demand for big trucks fell off the cliff.  But even before fuel prices unexpectedly started to fall, again, buyer choices were already beginning to shift back to more traditional patterns.

A year after American pump prices hit record levels, pickup and SUV sales are nearly back to normal levels, while small cars yet again lag near the bottom of the sales charts.

Cheaper than a gallon of gas! (It's free!)

Cheaper than a gallon of gas! (It's free!)

“Everyone reported on the rapid escalation of small-car demand, but the rapid descent of small car market share went somewhat unnoticed,” Jeff Anderson, head of consulting and analytics, for Experian, tells TheDetroitBureau.com.  “Anyone who predicts a long-term shift in consumer car-buying sentiment based solely on last summer’s knee-jerk reaction to gas price increases could be in for a surprise.”

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