Fuel efficiency standards pave road for SUV comeback

SUVs are back!

The October auto sales report, released this morning, shows the continuation of a trend in the United States: Big cars and trucks are back.

Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Nissan Motor Co., reported U.S. sales exceeding analysts’ estimates, largely on the strength of SUV sales.

According to Bloomberg

GM’s Buick brand had its best October since 2007 as its Encore small SUV posted a 33 percent gain. Sales of the Detroit-based automaker’s Cadillac Escalade rose 30 percent and the Chevrolet Tahoe large SUV was up 6.1 percent last month.

“Utility vehicles, especially small and mid-size, are the story once again, as consumers are buying more and willing to pay more for these models,” Alec Gutierrez, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in an e-mailed statement. “With gas prices at a three-year low and with consumer confidence at a seven-year high, this trend should continue.”

There are a couple of different ways to spin this. One is that Americans have short memories and given low gasoline prices, they’ll splurge and waste their money every time.

But there’s another, regulations requiring more fuel-efficient vehicles have given consumers a break and they don’t have to choose between being able to afford to fill the jalopy and squeezing into tiny clown cars.

“The price of gas per gallon is drastically low — I’m really celebrating and enjoying that at the moment,” said Andrea Turner of Tennessee of her decision to buy a 2014 Buick Encore sport-utility vehicle.

Wasteful excess? The thing gets 33 mph on the highway.

“You just feel so much better when you look at the pump, and you’re pleasantly surprised,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst for LMC Automotive in Troy, Michigan, who sees a direct link between gasoline prices and small-car sales. “You say, ‘Maybe I’ll splurge on something and treat myself.'”

The trend helps consumers rationalize paying thousands more for a roomy, high-riding SUV than they would for a little car, Schuster said. With automakers due to report October sales next week, SUV sales growth has exceeded that of small cars in each month of this year.

“Right now, gas mileage is not that much of an issue for consumer choice,” said Greg Williams, new-car sales manager at Holman Honda of Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

The fuel standards are a moving target. The latest one, set in 2012, sets 54.5 miles per gallon as the average the auto industry must achieve by 2025. It’s 29.7 mpg now and 35.5 mpg in 2016.

  • Robert Moffitt

    It’s a free country. We can buy any kind of vehicle we want — and can afford.
    However, when fuel prices go up again — and we all know they will — let’s have another discussion on who drives a “clown car.”

  • davehoug

    It’s 29.7 mpg now and 35.5 mpg in 2016 = = = So what happens when the average is NOT met???

  • Dave

    “The price of gas per gallon is drastically low” — compared to what??

    As the article implies, you can peg SUV sales to a decline in the gas price; the absolute price is evidently immaterial.

    • The actual average price of gasoline in the last couple of years doesn’t really support the notion that there’s an exponential relationship between the price and SUV/truck sales. The sales have been fairly steady all year, even though the price of gasoline has only recently declined significantly.

      This tells me that people have been looking at SUVs in the showroom and saying, “huh. 33 mph city? That’s better than what I’m getting with my rusting out Chevy Cavalier.”

      That’s pretty much how the conversation went in my house when we b ought my wife a new car. We ended up dumping my Cav for a 2014 Subaru Crosstrek, which is somewhere between an SUV and a car. But once we looked at the mileage and saw it could get over 30 mph, something else became more important: all wheel drive.

    • KTN

      Compared to the rest of the world, but with our incredible sense of entitlement and exceptionalism we deserve to pay under $3/gallon – it is our God given right to waste as much as we can, and screw everyone else.

  • Gary F

    Hard to put dogs and hunting stuff in a Prius, hard to carry stuff home from Home Depot/Menards in a Prius, hard to tote a bunch of hockey players around, in a Prius.

    I don’t own an SUV but full size sedans and a mini-van. I couldn’t live my life in a Prius.

    As Chevy said years ago, “It’s not just your car its your freedom”.

    • Gary F

      My 2012 full sized Taurus gets 28MPG when driving 70MPH.

    • brian

      My in-laws have a Prius, and you can actually fit quite a bit from Menards/Home Depot in it since it is a hatch back. Not a 4×8 sheet of anything, but it is much more usefull than the small sedans my wife and I drive.
      From experience moving: a mini-van beats almost any SUV in terms of inside packing space.

    • Dave

      As a latte-sipping, arugula-muching, non-dog-owning, non-hunting, non-hockey-playing Prius owner, I had no idea that I was less free than you. Clearly I need to buy a fullsize domestic sedan to increase my Freedom™.

      You know what’s funny. A while back I saw this really really cool guy in a very large pickup with a bumper sticker that read “Prius Repellent” and an arrow pointing to his tailpipe. He passed me, then I got behind him so I could pass another car. He then downshifted and a huge cloud of black diesel exhaust belched forth from his vehicle.

      Well, I suppose I walked right into that one!

      • When I moved to Minnesota, one of the first pieces of advice my boss gave me was, “don’t ever pass another car on a single lane highway.”

        • Meh, I do that all the timewhen I’m in outstate MN.

          My little Go-Mobile is hard to catch.


      • Jeff C.

        They were “rollin’ coal”. Google it for some, er, interesting videos. The Colbert Report did a great story about this, too.


    • Robert Moffitt

      Again, no one is forcing anyone to drive any model/type of car.
      Pick the vehicle that fits your lifestyle. That mini-van and sedan might just use E85 as well as gas. If so, you have another option. Less mpg, but cleaner, local and much, much cheaper, in many stations.

      • BJ

        Had my van for a year before I understood what E85 was and that my van would use it. 90 cents cheaper, man oh man that is a big deal!

        • What are you getting for mileage with E85?

          • BJ

            Only about 1-2 MPG less than Octane 87, my wife drives the van to work 3 days a week (about 2 miles from home) and we use it for the ‘long’ highway drives. Highway is 1.5-2.5 less. I was pleasantly surprised. $15 per tank full cheaper (17 gallons) almost no difference (about .5 gallon worth weekly), to travel the same distance i need about 17.5-19 gallons of E85 to what would be 17 gallons of 87.

          • Robert Moffitt

            In our work vehicles, I get roughly 27-30 mpg in the Ford Focus, and about 13 mpg in the F-150. Both are fueled exclusively on E85. We’ve never run them on regular gasoline.

        • Robert Moffitt

          Glad you discovered it. You’ll find some of the better prices on E85 at metro area Holiday stores. Also in southwestern MN, were some stations get their E85 directly form producers.

          • BJ

            At a holiday in southwestern Minnesota was when I realized it was an E85 van, have a holiday in Brooklyn Center (Brookdale) that is close enough to make the extra 1 mile run to fill up. The Holiday 4 blocks from my house (Crystal) doesn’t have it.

          • Robert Moffitt

            The Holiday in New Hope (7180 42nd Ave. N.) also sells E85. You can find all the MN stations at http://www.CleanAirChoice.org

          • BJ

            That is near the YMCA, that will be handy if I start going to the gym again. 🙁

    • Tim

      There are hybrid SUVs too, and Chrysler is planning to introduce a hybrid minivan next year. They’re not cheap, though.

  • Tyler

    Have you seen a Buick Encore? The definition of SUV has been corrupted if we’re calling an Encore an SUV. That Buick has more in common with a Fiesta than an Explorer.

    • jon

      When SUVs stopped being built on truck frames they stopped being utility vehicles, and started being big cars… that’s all they are now… SUV = big car.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        Actually SUV = Station Wagon

        • jon

          When we got my wife’s station wagon we compared the Subaru outback (station wagon) to the forester (SUV). They were based on the same frame, the forester didn’t have any higher ground clearance, and didn’t sit much higher, the wheel base was narrower, and the interior space was significantly less.
          Oh and the forester got worse mileage too.
          We got a used wagon.

          • Kassie

            My Forester gets much better mileage than my Outback did (comparing a new Forester to an old Outback.) The Outback has a lot more space in the wagon, but the Forester has a lot more passenger space and has more height in the cargo area, which is good for my tall dog.

  • Gary F

    And Hyundai and Kia……………………………


  • KTN

    Just got back from an extended trip to western Montana, where on the drive out, I spent the better part of 4 hours at an average of 115mph (with a short burst to 140ish). The myth that greater speed gets you to your destination is wrong – at those speeds, I was averaging about 12 mpg, and loving every second of it, but I did have to stop to fuel more often thus negating my gains, but I was not in a hurry anyway, just wanted to drive fast.
    Otherwise our cars get about 28mpg on the freeway.

  • John

    We just bought a new, small SUV. We looked at hybrids, but I couldn’t make the numbers work out for the 10-14K miles my wife will drive it each year. She looked at getting a hybrid anyway, in spite of the cost premium, because there is something to be said for reducing tailpipe emissions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we liked nearly as much as the car we bought.

    Mostly, I’m too tall, and I refuse to buy a car that I can’t sit up straight in. Other priorities included: AWD, leg room for two growing kids (at least one of which will also be too tall soon), and sitting up a little higher for better visibility.

    So, the short answer is (I think) that there are other considerations that have to be made besides the cost of gas and even tail pipe emissions. When it comes down to it, gas prices have little to do with our decision. You can spend about 6 cents per mile on gas in a Prius, or you can spend about 25 cents per mile on gas in a half ton truck pulling a trailer. Either way, it’s amazing how far you can go for a relatively small investment in gasoline. (Both our cars fall somewhere in the middle of that range)

  • jack

    As there are sensible shoes to wear there are sensible cars to drive. Nothing speaks of sensibility more than driving a Lexus, not to mention the contributions it makes to our planet.