There was a time when American cars had a less-than-sterling reputation. American vehicles were often viewed as inefficient, gas-guzzling beasts that, at times, had more seats than miles per gallon. And, for a time, that reputation was well-earned. Beginning in the late 1990’s, SUVs and trucks were being purchased in droves, leaving dealerships struggling to keep up with demand. Then, when gasoline prices began to rise, American drivers flocked to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Today, we are again seeing gas-guzzling SUVs rule the road. Will the trend continue?
When drivers begin to consider the size of their next vehicle, a determining factor is often the price of gasoline. When gas is cheap, consumers buy more SUVs and trucks. Alternately, when gasoline prices explode like they did in the summer of 2008, automakers have trouble almost giving gas guzzlers away. Today, with low but steadily rising gas prices, consumers are again seeking out large vehicles. Sales have been robust enough that about a year ago, CNN proclaimed that “SUVs are kings of the road once again.”
SUVs and trucks serve their purpose, but many times are purchased and used as the primary vehicle. According to Autotrader, “When it comes to buying a car or truck, we often like to shop for vehicles that offer a 1 percent solution — a vehicle with a primary function that’s something you may use only 1 percent of the time. Pickups are frequently bought by folks who rarely use the truck’s full capability. Three-row minivans, crossovers, and SUVs are purchased to accommodate the relatives or friends who rarely visit. Even daily commuter cars are often bought in supersized proportions, despite the fact that most of that space is unused during the course of a normal day.” Many drivers use these SUVs and trucks as their primary commuter vehicle, even if they are driving by themselves.
The effects of driving SUVs and trucks unnecessarily have tangible ramifications. Despite increased environmental consciousness, the average MPG of a new American vehicle is decreasing, meaning new vehicles are getting less efficient. As a consequence of this declining efficiency, carbon emissions from the consumption of gasoline increased for the first time in five years.
There is ultimately little that consumers can do to control gas prices. Drivers can, however, control the efficiency of their vehicle, which makes for a good insurance policy against rising gas prices. CNN Money believes that “Small, fuel efficient cars will most certainly return to a heyday… If the circle has indeed been completed, we’ll come back to our little hatchbacks when gas goes back to $4 a gallon.”