Small cars are
"We see very strong resistance in trading in both large vehicles," Toprak says. "A lot of families, especially with kids, insist on having one large vehicle."
Trends are regionalized, too, as Toprak noted,
with the move toward small cars focused in
the cities. Ron McNutt, owner and president
of Kentucky-based McNutt Motor Sales, a large-volume
wholesale buyer in the mid-south U.S., says
he hasn't seen a stampede to smaller cars.
"Even with $3-plus gas, people still want to buy Tahoes and Yukons. It's almost unbelievable that the small car inventory is pretty stale," says McNutt, who buys his cars mostly at auction and resells to dealers in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee and Missouri.
McNutt says interest in small cars has picked up "somewhat,"
while sales of pickups have trailed off. But
his subcompact Chevy Aveos are sitting, while
the high-end, well-equipped SUVs like Yukon
Denalis are moving well.
McNutt got into business in 1973, in the era of the oil crisis. He remembers gas lines and worthless Cadillacs. Until there's a similar supply shortage, he thinks Americans will pay what it takes to fill up the larger vehicles they prefer to drive.
"Ford Pintos and Chevy Vegas were sought after vehicles," he says. "I don't see that happening unless there is a shortage.
"Some people are going to drive smaller vehicles, but I'm not going to say the majority."
Ella Cooper, however, is betting
that more people will want to drive small
cars. In May she opened E Company LLC, an
all-electric car sales and rental dealership
in the small tourist town of Traverse City,
Mich. It's one of just a few all-electric
dealerships in the state. She carries two
models: the two-passenger Kurrent, made by
American Electric, weighing in at 1,080 lbs,
measuring 92 inches long by 50 inches wide
with a trunk capacity of half a dozen grocery
bags, and the four-passenger GEM e4 made by
Global Electric Motors , weighing in at 1,280
lbs. and measuring 128 inches long and 55
"By virtue of the source of energy, they need to be small," Cooper says. She believes an increasing environmental awareness and ethic will lead people away from petroleum-powered cars to cars like hers.
"I do believe in renewable resources," she says, noting that her cars are charged by solar panels on the roof of the dealership. "All of our customers who are tooling around Traverse City can feel reassured that these vehicles were energized 100 percent by renewable resources."