Remember a few years back, when fuel prices closed in on the $4.00 per gallon mark, and naysayers told us it was the beginning of the end? We were either at or approaching peak oil, and gas prices were sure to continue their upward trend. Suddenly, buying a Smart franchise seemed like a sensible thing to do, but by the end of summer 2008, the madness had passed. Gas prices returned to normal levels, below $3.00 per gallon, and U.S. consumers (those who were still employed, at least) went about business as usual.
Americans either aren’t learning from the lessons of the past, or we aren’t too concerned about them: Left Lane News tells us that large SUV sales are up by 11% at GM and 28% at Ford year to date. Overall, the industry is reporting growth of 20% in the segment, surprising all but the product specialists behind the big SUVs. Mark Clawson, Chevrolet’s marketing manager, was quoted as saying, “Unless the country decides to limit people to only having two kids, only having one activity and not having things like snowmobiles, jet skis and boats, then there will be some people who will still want these vehicles.” In other words, large SUVs are just like potato chips: crunch all you want, and they’ll make more.
Expect manufacturers to focus on improving fuel economy in large SUVs over the next few years, via a mixture of smaller displacement turbocharged motors and expanded hybrid drivetrain offerings. I’d love to see turbodiesel motors worked into the product mix, but don’t expect that to happen any time soon. U.S. automakers are still convinced that Americans don’t want diesel motors, largely due to diesel fuel’s high cost on these shores.