Plummeting gas prices have pushed car buyers away from smaller, greener cars and back into their traditional comfort zone: big SUVs and light-duty trucks.
Amid robust sales last month, automakers saw consumers flock toward larger cars, while shunning traditional small cars. And although the strong sales are good news for carmakers right now, that could create problems later as the manufacturers work to meet tightening federal fuel economy standards.
"It is a fact that sales of our most energy-efficient vehicles mirror gas prices," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Auto Alliance, the lobbying arm for American carmakers. "When gas is more costly, sales of high-mileage vehicles rises too, and vice versa. While low energy prices offer good news for our customers, it makes the steep climb to [fuel economy] compliance even more challenging."
Thanks in part to dealers' promotions and a rebounding economy, auto sales were strong in November, with Subaru and Chrysler both reporting 20 percent increases over the previous month. General Motors, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen all saw gains as well, as the industry is on track to finish with annual sales higher than in 2013.
Those sales were largely driven by rebounding light-duty trucks and SUVs -- the GMC truck brand was up 22.7 percent, the Jeep Cherokee rose 67 percent, and the Honda CR-V saw sales rise 38 percent. Toyota took a hit on its cars but stayed afloat thanks to increased sales of its 4Runner SUV (up 53.4 percent) and the Highlander crossover SUV (up 16.7 percent).