With gas prices approaching or already having surpassed the $4.00 a gallon mark in the U.S., many Americans are looking to ditch their gas-guzzling SUVs for smaller cars and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs).
Nowhere was this more prevalent than the month of May for U.S. car/truck sales. The Ford F-150 has been America's perennial best-selling vehicle for the past two decades. It's month-to-month sales streak, however, came to a screeching halt in May.
The F-Series was beaten in monthly sales by not one, but four cars: the Honda Civic (53,299), Toyota Corolla (52,826), Toyota Camry (51,291), and Honda Accord (43,728). The F-Series was next in line with 42,973 units sold. The F-Series last saw the tail lights of a car in monthly sales way back in October 1991.
Ford Group VP for Marketing and Communications Jim Farley said that that thumping from Honda and Toyota was a "significant development" and that "it's not surprising, given the fuel price."
"That's just a sign of the times. I think May has been a watershed month," added Farley.
Alan Mulally, Ford's CEO, went even further adding, "We really believe we are seeing a structural shift with the fuel prices going through the $3.40-to-$3.60" range. It's interesting that a lot of others are saying the same thing now."
So I think we're seeing a structural shift where, with the prices being high in the United States, we're seeing exactly what happened in Europe a number of years ago, where the customers are going to make economic decisions, and they're going to move toward smaller and medium-sized vehicles."
Ford isn't the only American company feeling the heat from rising fuel prices and waning interest in large trucks and SUVs. According to the Chicago Tribune, General Motors has plans to close four of its truck and SUV manufacturing facilities. In return, the company plans to bring online a new small car plant in Ohio for the year 2010.
"We at GM don't think this is a spike or a temporary shift," said GM CEO Rick Wagoner in response to the shift from large vehicles to smaller cars.
In addition, GM's macho "Hummer" brand may be sold off according to Wagoner. Wagoner noted that GM is "undertaking a strategic review of the Hummer brand, to determine its fit with GM's evolving product portfolio" and that it is "considering all options for the Hummer brand... everything from a complete revamp of the product lineup to partial or complete sale of the brand."
Even GM's new hybrid SUVs have failed to spark much interest from consumers despite the fact that they manage to crack the 20 MPG barrier. GM managed to only sell roughly 1,100 units combined of the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid through the first five months of 2008 -- this is well off the projected pace of 12,000 units for all of 2008.
Manufacturers with more nimble, car-based product lineups like Honda are laughing all the way to the bank with America's newfound interest in efficient vehicles.
"The dramatic increase in car sales appears to be one of the most profound shifts in automotive buying patterns in more than a decade," said American Honda Executive Vice President Dick Colliver.