Shrink my ride in the name of gas prices

June 20, 2008 3:56:02 PM PDT
The price of gasoline is forcing a lot of drivers to switch to smaller cars in order to save money, but some are finding the choices limited.At dealerships across the area, small cars are in big demand and it could mean you will be waiting to get behind the wheel of a fuel efficient ride.

Houston has long been the home of the SUV and the full sized truck. But now, the big sellers on car lots are the smallest vehicles, in some cases there are only a few to choose from and there could be a waiting list.

At one Chevy lot we went to, there were only three Aveos.

"As soon as we get them, people are actually buying the vehicles," said Eliud Lopez with Davis Chevrolet.

At one Honda dealership there were only three Fits.

"Every time the car comes in, it will not last longer than three days on the lot," said Rod Hall with Gillman Honda.

And at this Smart dealership, the wait to get into a fuel efficient for two is one full year.

"When you see the car on the road today, it's folks who registered for it a year ago," said Ralph Nielsen with Smart Center Sugar Land.

Dealers we spoke with said the moment gas went above $3 a gallon, the small car came of age. The Chevrolet Aveo gets more than 30 miles per gallon, for buyers it means limited numbers on the car lot. If you don't mind the color or interior options you can drive away with one today, but if you are picky.

"If they are flexible we can get them in a vehicle in about a day," Lopez said. "If they are dead set on a specific color, it may take some time but we can still accommodate them."

At one Honda dealership, that means an Aggie will likely have to get on a list or drive away in a burnt orange 30 mile per gallon Fit.

"Right now the Honda Fit and the Civic I have waiting lists for, if it's a hybrid, it will be September before you get one," Hall said.

A few months ago this lot had more than 100 Civics in the inventory, today it's around two dozen. The longest waiting list is for the smallest car on the market. The Smart Fortwo is the European two- seater that only recently became available in the US. Demand is so strong the Sugar Land dealership is actually turning away drivers with cash in hand.

"They come in with their check books in hand they are ready to go," Neilson said. "They want these cars and they want fuel efficiency and when they find out it takes a year to a year and a half it brings them down a little bit."

The market for small cars extends to the used market too. Anything in good shape with a four cylinder engine can fetch a premium. That also means deals on used four cylinder cars are becoming harder to find.

So how much can people save by switching to a smaller car?

A lot depends on how much you drive, but a typical SUV driver can save more than $150 a month by going with a four cylinder car.

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