Years of high prices at the pump has changed the way consumers shop for cars and the way manufacturers make them resulting in smaller engines that use technology to give the drivers the performance they're used to, say local dealerships .
According to Gasbuddy.com the average price of a gallon of gas five years ago was around $3.30 per gallon. Today, prices are hovering about 30 cents higher. Except for a six-month period between November 2008 and April 2009, the price of gas has not been below $2 per gallon on average and for the past two years or so has been stubbornly stuck above $3 per gallon.
This, along with increasing concern about the environment and the ongoing trouble in the Middle East has changed the way consumers shop for their new cars. Dealers say they have responded with new models to address their customer’s concerns.
“The last several years have brought monumental changes to the automotive industry,” said co-owner Michael Brown of the 21-store Atlantic Auto Group based in West Islip. “Consumer concerns triggered by the economy, the environment, and concerns about safety have been addressed by manufacturers and our products have become much more varied and much more relevant.”
In a survey published in May 2012, Consumer Reports found that by far the number one factor influencing customers when purchasing a new vehicle is fuel economy.
The report said that 37 percent of respondents named gas mileage as their top concern. The next features were much further down the list with only 17 percent of people saying they considered quality and 16 percent citing safety influencing purchasing decisions.
Clearly, people are worried about the hit at the gas pump on their bottom lines.
Lenny Cafarelli, General Manager of Atlantic’s Huntington Toyota store, says that his customers are down-sizing and are choosing smaller, more economical cars. He indicates that mid-compact cars are in great demand and that the four-cylinder engines are as popular now as the six-cylinder engines were in prior years. Rav-4, Camry, and Prius are models that his customers are craving.
Craig Fina is the General Manager of the Atlantic Nissan Super Store. His perspective varies somewhat from Caferelli’s.
“Economical cars are the vehicles driving the marketplace,” said Fina from his office in West Islip. “But I don’t necessarily see the cars or the engines getting smaller. I believe that the cars are just engineered better for more horse power and better gas mileage.”
Fina’s top sellers are the 2013 Altima followed by the 2013 Sentra. He indicates that Nissan has redesigned these models to maintain their popularity, not just to stand on their past successes.
“Absolutely,” said Wayne Rampone Jr., Vice President of Ramp Ford in Port Jefferson Station when asked if he thought new cars were getting smaller.
The cars that are driving the marketplace right now are in what Ford calls the super segment. Small cars and small SUVs like the Focus, Fusion, Escape and the Edge.
Ford Fusion and Ford Escape only come with a 4-cylinder engine. The company no longer offers a 6-cylinder engine in those models, though Rampone Jr. said that the eco-boost technology engines offer the same "pep and pick-up as 6-cylinders and very good gas mileage."
That segment of the market, he says, is growing most rapidly. Gone are the days when his dealership moved gas-guzzling big trucks out the door.
“That business has slowed down quite a bit,” he said. “We used to have a lot of truck sales. Pickup and truck sales have slowed.”
Though people aren’t going for the hybrid vehicles. What they want are smaller standard cars with better fuel economy.
"Most go for 4-cylinder gas engines with great gas mileage," said Rampone Jr.