Gas prices don't slow SUV sales

KINGMAN ­ Gas prices are at near-record levels, leaving many motorists pained at the pump, but SUV sales in the area are continuing at a brisk pace, dispelling myths that fuel cost is outstripping utility.

"Gas is not really a big issue. You would think it has been but it hasn't been for us," said Curtis Cutshaw, general manager of Cliff Findlay Auto Center, 3730 Stockton Hill Road, which carries a wide selection of the gas-guzzling behemoths. Around 65 percent of his total sales are comprised of truck and SUV sales, he said. "We do hear the thing about the gas but the people who come in looking for SUVs have kind of accepted the issue," he added. "It is what it is."

On Friday, the average national price of one gallon of unleaded fuel, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, was $2.25, down approximately 50 cents from one month ago and up approximately 30 cents from one year ago. The April survey from CNW Marketing Research, a major auto industry researcher, found that out of 56 characteristics considered by Americans buying large SUVs, fuel economy ranked 51st.

"It's still more important to have the right number of cup holders than high fuel economy," said CNW president Art Spinella in an interview with CNN.

The survey also found that out of the same characteristics considered by Americans buying any new vehicle, fuel economy ranks 44th, up from 46th in the previous survey.

Area resident John Edwards, who owns two GMC Suburbans, a 1994 he drives and a 2001 model his wife drives, said fuel economy will always be secondary to the convenience afforded by his twin SUVs.

Edwards said he spends between $70-$80 each time he fills his massive tanks. His 2001 model gets 18-20 miles per gallon and his 1994 model gets 15-16 miles per gallon

"It's worth it," he said. "The mileage isn't good but it's versatile. It's a car. It's a station wagon. And you can haul a lot of stuff. If you have a small car then you need a pick-up, too."

Safety is also a factor, he said.

"You can see over traffic," he said, adding, "If you have an accident with a little car you're going to win."

Despite Americans' apparent willingness to forego gas prices for more sought after amenities, sales of SUVs nationwide have declined.

In April, sales of large SUVs fell 15 percent from the same period a year ago, according to sales tracker Autodata Corp. Ford Expeditions were off 34 percent, and Hummer H2s and Chevy Suburbans were down 21 percent.

However, SUVs still account for 25 to 30 percent of all vehicles sold in the US.

Cutshaw reported that sales of new, smaller SUVs are accounting for a large portion of sales. They have far better fuel economy than their super-sized relatives and enough seating and storage capacity to get the kids to soccer practice, he said.

General Motors, for example, now offers 19 vehicles that get 30 or miles per gallon, including the new Chevrolet HHR, a mid-sized SUV that Cutshaw said he has sold 10 of in the past few days. "I wish I had more," he said.

"I think car builders are starting to listen to the people of America and not just a select

group of people," he said.