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SUVs, Luxury Cars Lead U.S. Consumer Survey

April 25, 2002

Sport utility vehicles and luxury cars are the most desirable models to U.S. consumers this year, as low gasoline prices blunt demand for more fuel-efficient autos, according to a new study.About 43 percent of consumers looking for a new car would consider a sport utility, up from 32 percent in 1996, said market research company AutoPacific Inc. About 45 percent of car buyers expressed interest in luxury class passenger cars, an increase from 25 percent seven years ago.The 34,000 people surveyed could select more than one category."We can't say the SUV segment has crashed; in fact, we see exactly the opposite," AutoPacific President George Peterson said at a conference in Long Beach, Calif. Luxury car interest is benefiting from more advertising and "the group of buyers that's able to afford them is growing," he said.Sales of SUVs and other light trucks in the world's largest auto market topped passenger car sales for the first time in 2001, accounting for 51 percent of new vehicle registrations. Even with a rise in retail gasoline prices this year, demand for those models is helped by prices that remain near post-war lows when adjusted for inflation, according to a Bloomberg News story by Alan Ohnsman.Some changes in energy dynamics have increased oil prices in recent months, after this survey was conducted, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). NADA chief economist Paul Taylor pointed out that, in March, cars sold nearly as many units as light trucks, at least temporarily interrupting their 12-month market share gain.Taylor pointed out that V-6 and 4 cylinder carstraditionally sell better in the year after gasoline prices rise by 30 percent or more.Among SUVs, the newer "crossover" utility vehicles, with lighter, more economical platforms and drivetrains derived mostly from cars, are almost all of the growth in sales in the truck category over the last 15 months, according to Taylor. "So consumers are considering SUVs, but buying those that are more like their cars than their pickups," Taylor said.
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