Between now and 2009, hundreds of thousands of Americans will switch to smaller and more fuel-efficient sport utility vehicles or cars,according to auto industry executives surveyed by the University of Michigan.The study is based on interviews conducted in 2000 with about 100 executives at auto companies, suppliers and dealerships. Inexchange for their candid predictions, the participants were guaranteed anonymity, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer
.The study predicts an increasing concern for theenvironment, with automakers offering more fuel-efficient vehicles that are also practical and meet consumer needs.Small SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V, took up about 6.5 percent of all vehicles sold in1999, according to the study. The panelists predicted an increase to 8 percent by 2004 and 9 percent by 2009.The industry executives surveyed worked on the assumption that regular unleaded fuel would cost $1.50 per gallon in 2009.There has been a large increase in demand forSUVs built with car components to give them better fuel economy and a more comfortable ride, according to Paul Taylor, chief economistfor the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).Within the auto industry, these vehicles are sometimes called crossover utility vehicles or CUVs. They range from smaller vehicles such the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V to the Lexus RX 300 and new Toyota Highlander.