The sports utility vehicle craze may be winding down.

With 50-plus models now being manufactured, there are plenty of SUVs to go around. But as with any fad, once

everyone has one, it’s no longer as hip.

And then there’s the high cost of fuel. People are bound to think twice about buying a gas-guzzling SUV.



Gas pump shock

Yes, you can haul a lot of stuff in it. Yes, it gives you a great view of the road. And yes, it may just fit your all-adventure lifestyle. But it’s going to cost you when it comes to gas.

“It’s a factor that makes people stop and think a little bit. Every month we go on with high gas prices it becomes a bigger factor,” says John Clor, Detroit editor of the automotive Web site

edmunds.com.

On the other hand, the less appealing a vehicle seems, the more manufacturers tack on rebates and discount financing, so you may be able to land a good deal. The cash you save will come in handy when you pull up to the gas pump.

Fuel costs for SUVs are so hefty that many drivers are looking for cheaper ways to get around. Some people are rediscovering the joys of driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Clor knows parents who borrow their teen’s compact car for trips around town.

“What’s it cost, $40 or $50 to fill up one of those monsters? Maybe I’ll take the smaller car in the driveway,” Clor says.

All of these factors have many experts projecting flat or declining SUV sales in 2000.

“It’s almost impossible to keep up the growth we’ve been seeing,” says Paul A. Eisenstein, publisher of

TheCarConnection.com. “I’d be stunned if we don’t see a slow, steady reduction in SUV sales over the next year.”



Good news if you’re looking

Of course, a decline in SUV sales is good news for consumers. Manufacturers will pump up rebates and incentives to boost sales.

“Prices are flat and incentives are big. So yeah, it’s a great time to buy a sports ute,” says Art Spinella, vice president of CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore.

Among American manufacturers,

General Motors and

Ford are leading the charge on SUV incentives. Rebates of $1,000 to $2,000 are common. Discount financing as low as 2.9 percent is also available on a number of models.

Isuzu,

Kia,

Mitsubishi and

Nissan are offering some pretty hefty incentives as well, such as .9 percent financing on Isuzu Troopers and $1,500 to $2,000 rebates on Kia Sportages.

Not that long ago, manufacturers couldn’t keep up with demand. Incentives on SUVs were unheard of. Sports utes were different, they were fun to drive and everybody wanted one.

“There was a definite lifestyle issue. You weren’t a soccer mom, so to speak,” says Charlie Vogelheim, editor of

Kelley Blue Book.

“If you look at any SUV ad, there’s a mountain bike or kayak on top of them. It’s great to do those things, but what if you just go to and from school?”



High adventure — at the mall

Truth be told, most SUV drivers do just that. They spend the money for an aggressive, outdoor, adventure-loving vehicle and then drive it to work and the mall.

“SUVs are kind of an urban cowboy thing,” Spinella says. “It’s just a peculiarity. We’ve found that only 11 percent of SUV drivers ever put it in four-wheel drive.”

So lots of SUV owners are hauling around a lot of extra weight for nothing.

“It was purely style — a fashion statement,” Spinella says.

It seems to have run its course. The pool of potential customers — people looking to buy SUVs — is shrinking, and more and more SUV owners are not buying new ones, according to studies by CNW Marketing/Research.



Back in vogue

What are SUV owners trading in their vehicles for? Gasp! It’s minivans.

Timely pricing information

The latest vehicle prices for vehicles can be found at the following sites:

A lot of male drivers opted for hip and edgy SUVs over less macho minivans. After all, who wants to tailgate at a ball game in a minivan? It’s bad enough going to Home Depot in one of those things, let alone the gym.

Well now, they’ve had a change of heart, and practicality may be winning out. Minivans are a better choice for many families: they’re roomier and they have a smoother ride.

“If you’re looking for a box to haul a lot of stuff and people, you get the best box you can and the best box is a minivan,” Spinella says.

So will new and improved minivans be the next big thing? Probably not. There will be plenty of minivans on the road for years to come, but experts are all talking about crossovers as the next automotive craze. A crossover is a strange mix of car, minivan and SUV. All the major manufacturers have them in the works. They’ve caused quite a stir at car shows.

“It’s not a minivan. It’s not a SUV. It’s not a car,” Clor says. “What is it?”

And so, passenger car drivers of the world, brace yourselves. More vehicles that you can’t see around are coming soon to a highway near you.

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