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SR Democart: Gas guzzler glut
Monday 17 Mar 2008, 07:19
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Fuel prices have SUV owners anxious to unload big vehiclesBy NATHAN HALVERSON AND CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

High gas prices are leaving SUV drivers with more than just thinner wallets.

Many are also stuck with their gas guzzlers, unable to trade in their Hummer or Chevrolet Suburban for something more fuel efficient.

With the price of gas spiraling above $3.60 a gallon, demand for big SUVs is evaporating, and prices are plunging.

“I’m getting four to five people a week with big SUVs and pickups screaming at me, ‘Help me get rid of this,’ ” said Dave Bower, owner of B&L Auto Sales, a used car dealer on Santa Rosa Avenue. “But I have to turn a lot of them away. I’ve already got enough.”

Large vehicles sit on Bower’s lot an average of four to six months before selling — about four times longer than three years ago. Now, he only stocks one full-size SUV such as a GMC Yukon

at a time.

“In 25 years, this is the worst I’ve seen gas prices affect car sales,” Bower said. “It is extremely dismal.”

Sales of new SUVs in the United States are down one-third from their peak in 2002, according to Autodata Corp., which tracks vehicle sales.

While demand dwindles, supply is increasing as more people unload their inefficient rides for something with better gas mileage. Prices have plummeted anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent for used trucks and SUVs, according to Sonoma County car dealers.

“They are just not getting the same prices they were a few years ago,” said Cherie Adamson, whose family has run the weekend Carmart for 24 years at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. “Everybody is looking for smaller four-cylinder vehicles now.”

Rudolfo Luebano, who was shopping at the Carmart on Saturday, took a look at a vintage 1973 orange, 4×4 Chevy Blazer whose owner was asking $3,500.

“A few years ago, there’s no way you could find a car like that for a price like that,” said Luebano, who was looking for a commuter vehicle to take him from Santa Rosa to his construction job in Petaluma.

“I have to think it over. If it gets only 9 miles per gallon for daily drives, I don’t think so,” he said.

Samier Eweis of Santa Rosa knows all too well how gas prices coupled with the slow economy are affecting SUV sales. He’s been trying to unload his 2003 Yukon Denali for the past six to seven months and has lowered his asking price from $35,000 to $19,900.

“The gas has a lot do with it,” he said Saturday. That’s why he’s selling the big, shiny black vehicle which was great for family trips to Lake Tahoe, but too much for his budget. He’s going back to his old Acura sports coupe, which gets better mileage.

The Denali is loaded with extras, including chrome wheel rims, leather captain’s seats and an overhead flip-down DVD screen and player.

With 58,000 miles on the odometer, it had less mileage than most of the other SUVS with it at the Carmart. But Eweis, an auto glass company owner, still hadn’t gotten any calls by mid-afternoon.

Even though he still owes $21,000 on the vehicle — more than his asking price — he said it costs him too much to drive between the insurance, car payment and gas.

“I will pay off the bank so I can get rid of it,” he said. “It’s been tough.”

The rapid decline in value has left many people owing more on their SUVs than the vehicles are worth.

“I’m not even going to try and sell my 2001 Chevrolet Blazer. Why bother? I would lose $4,000,” said Michael Poirier of Santa Rosa, who visited the Carmart last week.

Poirier owes $14,000 on the truck and estimates it is worth $10,000. If he sells it, he’ll have to pull $4,000 out of his pocket to pay off the loan or continue making loan payments for a vehicle he no longer owns.

“I would lose too much money selling it,” he said.

About three out of four people who come into B&L Auto Sales with a used car to trade in are “upside-down” on their car loans — meaning they owe more than the vehicle is worth.

“These are everyday, working-class people,” Bowen said.

Nationally, one in four people who traded in a used car to buy a new one in 2007 was upside-down on their loan, according to Edmunds.com, which tracks industry sales.

These people owed an average of $4,059 — the greatest disparity between vehicle value and loan value on record. And the trend is only expected to get worse in 2008, according to Edmunds.com.

“We believe it will be one of the slowest years for auto sales in nearly a decade,” said Jesse Toprak, an Edmunds.com analyst, in an annual report.

While sales of large vehicles are tumbling, fuel-efficient vehicles are becoming hot commodities. Toyota increased sales of its iconic Prius hybrid by 71 percent in 2007. And construction workers long enamored with big V-8 engines are turning to more economical four- and six-cylinder pickups.

“I love my Ford Super Duty. But it’s killing me. It’s a diesel-guzzling machine,” said Greg Clouse, owner of Clouse Construction.

Last week, Clouse went in search of a smaller Toyota Tacoma pickup truck in order to get better gas mileage.

Clouse spends $60 a day on diesel fuel for his Ford while driving from job site to job site during the work week. That is equivalent to about $15,000 a year. He figures he can cut that cost in half by driving a small truck.

“That’s the new reality,” he said.

This story includes information from the New York Times. You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 521-5494 or nathan.halverson@

pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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2 Comments

Clouse drives 300miles a day? Not alot of time to get any work done after that kind of a driving day.

Comment by Anon.r.mous

Your only talking about 16.393 gallons at $3.60 a gallon. About 1/2 tank with those things. 2008 mpg is from 9.23 MPG to 19.72 MPG depending on the model, fuel, and driving conditions. I know diesel is more expensive than gas, and will cut down the gallons.

Leaves us with between 151.30739 miles and 323.26996 miles.

Even on the low end is a good bit of miles. On a normal week I’ll do 240 miles. Sometimes I’ll have to run over to Hoopa, or down to Garberville, or Shelter Cove. I’ve even gone down to Fort Bragg for a job.

Comment by capdiamont




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