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Gas guzzlers popular despite rising fuel prices

February 17, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

See also: Experts blame OPEC for soaring prices at the pump

More than two decades ago, soaring gasoline prices prompted a shift toward more fuel-efficient cars.

With gasoline prices once again on the rise, industry experts say it's too soon to predict whether it will spur a similar trend - away from gas guzzling sport utility vehicles.

"I'd be surprised if a big change happened," said Marge Sorge, editor in chief of Automotive Industries Magazine.

The price surge hasn't been going on long enough and the economy is still doing well, Sorge said. Plus, people really like SUVs, she said.

Local dealers said Thursday they hadn't seen customers steer away from buying SUVs because of rising gas prices.

People who buy SUVs that cost $30,000 to $40,000 aren't going to wince at paying a few hundred extra dollars a year for gasoline, said Mike Morrissey, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

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With the booming economy, people are in a better position to pay a little more for gas, Morrissey said.

To get an idea of how much gas SUVs use, a Chevy Suburban gets 18 miles to the gallon on the highway, compared with a 36 miles per gallon for a Saturn four-door sedan, he said.

A crop of smaller SUVs that use less gas is already out, including the Honda CRX and the Kia Sportage, Morrissey said.

If the economy flags and gas prices continue to rise to the point they are $2.50 to $3 per gallon, then people may revert back to more cost-efficient vehicles, Sorge said.

Until gas prices drop, AAA has tips for more fuel-efficient driving to lessen the impact:

* Keep tires properly inflated to reduce resistance vehicles must overcome to start moving and keep going.

* Accelerate and brake gradually. Accelerating and braking quickly wastes fuel.

* Only idle the vehicle a few minutes. Idling consumes half a gallon to one gallon of fuel per hour and wastes more fuel than restarting your vehicle.

* Shop around for the lowest fuel price.

* Combine errands into one trip.

* Avoid carrying items on the vehicle's roof or trunk since that increases wind resistance.

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