4 gasoline fuels surge in march sales
Last Updated : GMT 18:08:33
Arab Today, arab today
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$4 gasoline fuels surge in march sales

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today $4 gasoline fuels surge in march sales

London - Arabstoday

It feels counterintuitive. Expensive gasoline not only helped propel new-vehicle sales in the first quarter. It was a key factor in the surge. But customers aren\'t flocking from big trucks to small cars as happened four years ago when fuel prices spiked. Instead they are shopping within the same segments and snapping up newer models that get better fuel economy. So despite $4 gasoline, consumers bought 1.4 million light vehicles in March, up 13 percent over March 2011 and the highest volume for any month since August 2007. What\'s the attraction? New vehicles with better fuel efficiency than slightly older models of the same size. \"Fuel economy was the name of the game in March [and] the first quarter,\" said Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co.\'s U.S. sales boss. \"Dealers across the country told us that higher fuel prices played a larger role in customers\' choices.\" Czubay also cited the improving economy but said the availability of fuel-efficient vehicles has done the most to boost sales this year. The March surge wasn\'t a wholesale rush to small fuel-sippers as it was in 2008. Truck sales rose at about the same rate as car sales. In March, cars were up 14 percent, and truck sales rose 11 percent. In May 2008, when fuel prices skyrocketed, cars were up 2 percent, and trucks plummeted 25 percent. The big winners in March were models that combine much-improved fuel economy with utility, such as the Ford F series and Focus, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry and Prius. Compare the redesigned Camry, on sale since September, with the archrival Honda Accord, which is in its final year. The four-cylinder Camry with a six-speed automatic transmission is rated at 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, compared with the five-speed automatic Accord\'s 22/33 mpg. Both have a 3.5-liter V-6 available, though the Accord has a five-speed and the Toyota, a six-speed transmission. The ratings: Camry, 21/30 mpg; Accord, 19/29. And first-quarter sales? The Camry was up 37 percent to 105,405 units. The Accord was down 8 percent to 61,132. \'Tipping point\' Ford sales boss Jim Farley said the industry\'s fuel-efficiency drive has hit a \"tipping point\" in transforming product lineups. And customers are realizing how much savings come with a fuel-efficiency increase of perhaps 10 mpg, he said. \"If you do the math, it\'s thousands and thousands of dollars,\" he said. Customers still buy big vehicles but insist on fuel efficiency, said Mike Good, general manager of Street Toyota in Amarillo, Texas. March was the dealership\'s best month ever. \"It\'s not changing their buying habits,\" he said. \"But they want fuel efficiency. Everybody knows the mpg when they walk in.\" The market gained 13 percent in both March and the first quarter, the first time since early 2008 the annualized selling rate has exceeded 14 million for three straight months. Chrysler Group was the big winner for both, up 34 percent in March and 39 percent in the first three months. But American Honda Motor Co. and General Motors missed the industry\'s wave. Honda sales fell 5 percent in March and are up just 4 percent so far this year. GM needed its 12 percent March increase to swing its first quarter from a loss to a 3 percent gain. Many of the most popular models in the first quarter were redesigned vehicles with much-improved fuel economy or vehicles with new fuel-saving engine options. Some examples: -- The Toyota Prius sizzled, up 42 percent for the first quarter. With a third variation, the Prius C that was added in March, the car\'s monthly sales jumped 54 percent. That made it the sixth-best-selling U.S. vehicle, up from No. 14 in March 2011. -- Sales of the Ford F-series pickup rose 9 percent in March despite the high fuel prices. The big truck captured 4.1 percent of total U.S. sales in the first quarter, higher than in 2008 and 2009 when most F-series pickups were sold with big V-8 engines About 60 percent of F-series trucks now are sold with V-6s, Farley said -- most of them with the 3.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, introduced a year ago, that offers V-8 grunt with six-cylinder fuel economy. Since 2007, the F series has moved from all four-speed to five- or six-speed transmissions. -- The Ford Focus\' 2011 redesign added a six-speed automatic transmission that helped boost its fuel economy rating to 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. First-quarter sales jumped 78 percent for a 1.9 percent market share, compared with 1.1 to 1.5 percent shares the past five years. Big payoff Michael Sivak, a researcher at the University of Michigan\'s Transportation Research Institute, said that with incremental product improvements and consumers looking for fuel savings, new vehicles purchased in March had a combined average fuel economy of 24.1 mpg, up from 20.1 mpg in October 2007. The big fuel-efficiency gains arriving this year are a payoff for the big effort manufacturers have made since the 2008 fuel spike. Quick fixes were installed piecemeal, but products designed from scratch since 2008 with a focus on fuel efficiency are just starting to hit the market. Last week\'s unveiling of the 2013 Ram pickup suggests the next stage for fuel efficiency. The redesigned Ram drops the 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed transmission for a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and eight-speed transmission, boosting horsepower by 42 percent. The Ram gets other fuel-saving features: a stop-start system, air suspension, front grille air shutters that close at higher speeds to reduce drag, and thermal management to raise oil and coolant temperatures quickly on startup. As post-2008 vehicle redesigns reach the market, they\'ll need that fuel-efficiency technology because gasoline prices are likely to stay high and consumers are increasingly aware of operating costs, Ford\'s Farley said. \"If someone buys an F-150 and pays $4 a gallon for gas and drives it 150,000 miles, guess how much they pay for fuel,\" he said. \"It\'s $36,000. It\'s more expensive than the truck.\" That\'s why Ford pickup customers are buying almost half their F-series pickups with EcoBoost V-6s. And it\'s why Ford will triple production of the year-old engine this year, Farley said.

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