Area dealers: SUV sales remain strong despite rising gas prices

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    SUSSEX COUNTY-When the Arab oil embargoes of 1973 and 1979 made gasoline a rare and precious commodity and long lines and rationing at service stations a regular occurance, many consumers adjusted by buying smaller cars. Today, there is no embargo and there are no lines, just ever increasing prices. But the reaction of motorists is starkly different, say local auto dealers. Even as prices in New Jersey pass $2.25 for a gallon of regular, new-car buyers continue to shop for heavy Detroit metal. "They're still buying the big vehicles, the heavy-engine SUVs, even with the price of gas," commented Rick Frederique, an assistant sales manager at 23 Dodge in Butler. "As a consumer myself, I stay away from the big vehicles." "I think we're doing the same as we usually do, a little bit of everything," responded Mauro Colonna, a sales manager at Franklin Sussex Auto Mall in Sussex. "It (gas prices) is not affecting business at all." Not all dealers report the same experience. Frank Petrucci, the president of Country Chevy in Warwick, N.Y., said that, while the big vehicles are still rolling off the lot at the same rate as usual, he's selling more small cars and, thanks to GM's employee-pricing promotion, which has been copied by Ford and Chrysler, is selling more cars overall. "There's definitely an impact," Petrucci said, referring to gas prices and car sales. "I do have customers wanting to reduce their expenditures. We're getting a sales increase in smaller vehicles. That's where we're seeing our business increase." The difference in gas mileage n and the cost of a fill-up n is dramatic for large and small vehicles. For example, the 2005 RAM SRT 10, a pickup truck with four-wheel drive, is government rated at nine miles per gallon in the city and 12 on highways, according to information supplied by Frederique. A 2005 Dodge Neon SXT is rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 for highway driving. On ten gallons of gas, the truck will go 120 miles and the small car 320. So why do consumers keep buying the big vehicles? "If I made a guess, I'd say it's because everyone else is buying an SUV," Frederique answered. "But then again, you can't really say that because everyone has their own needs." Regardless of a vehicle's size, there are ways to maximize gas mileage. According to both, a Web site on getting better gas mileage, and the Mid-Atlantic AAA, smarter and more patient driving can help save gas. Among the tips provided by the website is to observe the speed limit, because gas mileage "decreases rapidly" at speeds above 60 miles per hour; each mile per hour over 60 is analogous to paying an additional 15 cents per gallon for gas, the website says. In addition to avoiding excess weight and excessive idling, the use of cruise control on the highway "helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas." The AAA notes that under-inflated tires can also increase fuel consumption. It also recommends turning off the engine if you are going to be stopped for more than a minute and buying regular gas unless a higher grade is recommended by the owner's manual. A rule of thumb on gasoline grades for older cars is if the engine doesn't knock, you don't need a higher grade. Before the first embargo, brought on by the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Arab nations and Israel, gas was selling for about 38 cents a gallon. After going over 70 cents, it settled back to 55 cents by mid-1974. During the second embargo, in 1979, the price of a gallon of regular finally broke a dollar. It has fluctuated over the years, dropping under a dollar as recently as 1999 before climbing again. According to government figures, the price of a gallon hit $2 for the first time in November 2004, and, after sliding back, broke that barrier again this past March and stayed there. Today, the average price is around $2.25-$2.30.