Are consumer preferences leaning toward small cars and hybrids over trucks and SUVs now that gas is headed to $4 a gallon?
Yes, but car shoppers aren’t shifting their behavior as significantly as they did when gas prices actually topped $4 a gallon in 2008.
When you look at Cars.com data, shoppers are focusing more on compact cars and hybrids as interest in SUVs and crossovers wanes. As a percentage of total new-car searches, SUVs searches have dropped from a 27.7% share of our search in December 2010 to 25.1% in February 2011. Conversely, compact car searches have increased from 9.7% to 11.7% during the same time frame. As a percentage of our new-car search traffic, hybrid and compact car searches in February were the highest we’ve seen since August 2009 (compacts) and November 2009 (hybrids).
What’s behind the shift? Looking back at Cars.com search traffic, we believe the shift directly correlates to rising gas prices. We also think that a national average of $4 a gallon for gasoline would again tip the majority of new-car purchases back to cars. Here’s why: