Call it the revenge of the little guys. With gas prices officially cresting $4—and running higher in many parts of the country—American drivers are finally downsizing in big numbers. Overall auto sales are down about 8 percent so far this year—but sales of large cars and trucks have plunged 23 percent, according to J.D. Power & Associates. There's no mystery behind the shift: Buyers clearly believe high gas prices are here to stay, and are desperate to cut their gas bills.
Among the cars piling up on dealer lots, here are some of the biggest losers:
Hummer. Sierra Clubers can go ahead and cheer: Hummer sales are down by 36 percent so far this year, the biggest drop among a single brand. Sales of the smallest Hummer—the H3, which averages about 15 mpg—have fallen even more than the brawnier H2, which gets a meager 10 mpg or so. Consider some painful Hummer math: With gas at $4, it costs about $120 to fill the tank of an H2, and then you can only go about 300 miles before forking over another $120. No wonder General Motors is considering offloading the whole division.
Nissan Titan. This pickup has never caught on like its American counterparts, and sales are off 45 percent for the year. But even the venerable American brands are hurting. Dodge Ram sales are off 27 percent; Chevy Silverado sales, 26 percent. Sales of the Ford F series, down a mere 19 percent, look healthy by comparison.
Jeep Commander. That thing got a Hemi? Better hope not. The big V-8 engine was a hit back when gas was $1.50, but sales of the Commander—city mileage with the optional Hemi: 13 mpg—have plummeted 48 percent so far this year. Other SUVs are in bad shape, too. Sales of virtually every midsize SUV have fallen by double digits, and there's now such a glut that some dealers won't even accept an SUV as a trade-in.
Chrysler. That deal to lock in $2.99 gas was supposed to move some metal in a tough market, yet Chrysler sales are down 19 percent for the year—with a 25 percent drop in May, when the $2.99 deal was supposed to be luring buyers. The hulking Chrysler 300, a huge hit that supposedly redefined American muscle when it debuted in 2004, now looks as passé as tail fins: Sales are down 31 percent.
Saturn. General Motors has revitalized this division's entire lineup, with enticing new right-size vehicles like the Outlook and Vue crossovers and the Aura sedan. But buyers aren't, well, buying it. Sales are down 20 percent.
Toyota Avalon. Yes, even Toyota is struggling in segments, and while the Avalon sedan is more spacious than the popular Camry, there's only one engine choice, a six-cylinder. That's one reason sales are off 33 percent, a lot more than slightly smaller sedans that come with a four-cylinder option. Sales of every other large four-door are down, too, as the family sedan shrinks. It was nice while it lasted.