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Fuel-Sippers Popular With Buyers

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

An Autobytel Inc. survey shows America’s car dealers are feeling the impact of high fuel
prices. Thirty-three percent of dealers surveyed said fuel-efficiency outweighed brand,
styling, performance, safety and roominess as a consumer-buying consideration. Eighty-two
percent of dealers, meanwhile, said their customers are more interested in fuel-efficiency
and/or fuel-efficient vehicles than they were a year ago. The majority (52 percent) said
they’re now having a harder time selling SUVs/trucks than a year ago, despite hefty
incentives on many of the larger domestics. While 51 percent said they would make no
changes in their inventory mix, nearly half (45 percent) said that they are adding, or will
soon add, more fuel-friendly vehicles to their inventory mix at the expense of larger
trucks/SUVs. Another recent Autobytel survey, which queried 3,000 shoppers on the company’s
car-buying Web sites, reflects the online buying trends illustrated above. Forty-four
percent of those surveyed indicated they would shop for a smaller vehicle with better
fuel-efficiency, while 60 percent said they would sacrifice interior space and performance
for better fuel-efficiency. The flip side of the soaring popularity of smaller, more
fuel-efficient cars is lower demand for trucks and SUVs. Purchase requests were down for
the most popular trucks and SUVs — with the biggest drop-offs suffered by the biggest
models. Requests for the Ford Expedition, for example, were off 25 percent while requests
for the Hummer H2 fell 47 percent. The new Nissan Armada appears threatened, as requests
fell nearly 18 percent in the second quarter. Other import SUVs did not fare much better
than their domestic counterparts, with the Toyota Sequoia down 12 percent, the Toyota Land
Cruiser 30 percent off the pace and the Volkswagen Touareg dropping 37 percent since the
first quarter. Every rule has an exception, and when it comes to Autobytel shoppers’
current vehicle “downsizing,” that exception is the minivan category, which continues to
defy the downward trajectory of its SUV/truck brethren. The Ford Freestar is leading with a
67 percent increase in requests in Q2 2004 vs. Q1 2004. The Chrysler Town and Country (up
16 percent), Mazda MPV (up 12 percent), Dodge Caravan (up 11 percent) and Dodge Grand
Caravan (up 8 percent) are also bucking the smaller-is-better trend. Recent redesigns and
upgrades appear to be popular with family car shoppers, such as the new Toyota Sienna and
Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go seating-and-storage configuration. All three DaimlerChrysler minivans
— the Chrysler Town & Country (+16 percent), Dodge Caravan (+11 percent) and Dodge
Grand Caravan (+8 percent) posted solid gains in the second quarter. Combined, Dodge and
Chrysler minivans are up 12 percent over the first quarter of 2004. Most Requested SUVs 1)
2004 Ford Explorer 2) 2004 Ford Expedition 3) 2004 Chevrolet Tahoe 4) 2004 Saturn VUE 5)
2004 Honda CR-V Most Requested Trucks 1) 2004 Ford F-150 2) 2004 Chevrolet Silverado 3)
2004 Dodge Ram 4) 2004 Ford F-250 5) 2004 Toyota Tacoma Most Requested Minivans 1) 2004
Toyota Sienna 2) 2004 Honda Odyssey 3) 2004 Nissan Quest 4) 2004 Ford Freestar 5) 2004
Dodge Caravan Source: Autobytel Inc.

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