Gulp! Sales dry up for 'gas guzzlers'

SANDUSKY If you're trying to sell your SUV or truck, good luck. As fuel prices climb
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

If you're trying to sell your SUV or truck, good luck.

As fuel prices climb even higher, sales of "gas guzzling" vehicles are plummeting.

More and more people are trading those vehicles in for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars . Even bicycles are gaining ground as a cheaper alternative.

In March, sales of small cars such as the Ford Focus -- up 24 percent -- and Honda Fit -- up 73.8 percent -- thrived along with Hybrid sales, according to cars.com, a Web site that offers reviews of vehicles and price reports.

Meanwhile, sales of trucks such as the FordF-Series -- down 23.8 percent -- and the Dodge Ram -- down 31 percent --saw huge losses, as did SUVs.

Chris Palmer, an owner at Bill's Auto Sales,1811 Milan Road, said seven of the 25 to 30 vehicles on the lot at his small used car dealership are SUVs or trucks.

"They're not moving," Palmer said. "We're not buying them anymore, and the rates have gone down for them ... people have really taken a hit on trade-ins."

Palmer said the value of trucks, which average12 to 13 miles per gallon, is down by $3,000 to $4,000 as consumers turn toward four-cylinder vehicles and stick shifts.

"I saw someone who paid $10,000 for a 1999 Dodge Ram seven months ago, and I paid them $4,000 for it," he said. "People are wanting the stuff that gets 25 to 30 miles per gallon -- the Ford Escorts, the (Chevrolet) Cavaliers, and even some six-cylinder (Pontiac) Grand Ams, (Chevrolet) Impalas,Malibus."

Scott Tester, owner of Don Tester Ford Lincoln Mercury on U.S. 250, said he believes there is still a market for larger vehicles, but it's clearly experiencing a slow down.

"Some people still need larger cars -- they have larger families or they need them for work," Tester said. "We've tried to control our inventory, and we're confident things will be squared away on the gas ... America has survived a lot of things," he said, "and this isn't that bad."

Bruce Baker, sales manager at Dorr Chevrolet-Dorr Hyundai, 12400 Milan Road, said he's seen a noticeable shift to smaller cars and stick shifts, which he said generally get three to four miles more per gallon than automatic vehicles.

"I don't think we've seen the bottom yet," he said. "The price (of fuel) changes day to day, week to week."

If there is a bright spot to high fuel prices, it's the fact that they've paved the way for cyclists while boosting business for bicycle retail and repair stores.

Joe Missler, who owns Excel Bike and Fitness, 44 E. Main St., Norwalk, said he saves money by riding the 2.5 miles to work on his bicycle. The trip takes him about 15 minutes.

"I use that for exercise in the morning, and at night a good bike ride will rejuvenate you," he said. "I think it's a good development for people's health."

Missler said he has seen a 20 percent increase in his business, which offers high-quality, service-oriented bicycles and accessories.

Bill Johnson, owner of A & B Hobbies & Cycles, 1202 W. Washington St., said he's noticed an slight increase in cycle sales, but a significant spike in the need for bicycle repairs as more people lug their older bikes out of storage and use them to commute to work.

"(We've done) a tremendous amount of repairs this year compared to last year," he said. "It's probably 20 percent higher."

Johnson said customers from Huron, Norwalk, Port Clinton and other areas seem more likely to ride to work than Sandusky residents because the city is not as "bike-friendly."

"We don't have good road conditions in this area, especially if you live on Route 4, 250 or Perkins Avenue -- you don't want to compete with the traffic on those roads," he said. "And we don't have bike paths or other designated areas for people."

He said many commuters-turned-cyclists make the mistake of relying on inexpensive retail bikes to take them to work when they really should invest in higher-quality bike if they plan to ride daily. If they are serious about biking to work, they should expect to spend between $250 and $350 for a bike with at least a one-year warranty.

"With the $100 bike they buy at Wal-Mart or retail stores, they're going to spend a lot more on maintenance," he said. "They'll probably buy that same bike three times in three years," he said, "but you can last two to three years without needing any repairs on a more expensive bike."