- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

The sport utility market may be down nationally, but some Washington-area auto dealers say their SUV sales are just fine.

“Our [Cadillac] Escalade sales have not stopped, it is our best-selling SUV,” said David Marshall, a sales manager at Capital Hummer in Greenbelt.

“The clientele that buys Escalades can afford it, so gas doesn’t seem to be an issue,” he said.

Local SUV dealers attribute their continued sales to the economic stability of the Washington region.

“This area is very affluent and our business is somewhat immune to people who consider fuel economy as a motivating factor in purchasing an SUV,” said Steve Browdy, general sales manager at Moore Cadillac Hummer in Vienna.

Mr. Browdy said that despite high gas prices, his sales of Escalades have been so strong that he has trouble keeping them in stock.

“The people who are buying [full-sized SUVs] don’t really care about gas prices,” he said.

The 2005 Cadillac Escalade has a fuel economy of 13 miles per gallon in city driving conditions, according to the Department of Energy.

The upbeat perspective of local dealers stands in contrast to the doom and gloom felt by dealers elsewhere around the country.

Nationally, the forecast for midsized SUV sales fell 22 percent in the first three months of 2007 compared with last year, said a report conducted by Global Insight Inc., an automotive research and forecasting firm in Boston.

Full-sized SUV sales are predicted to fall 2.8 percent for the first three months of 2007 compared with the previous year. Premium SUV sales were predicted to increase by 8.6 percent for the same period.

Analysts said steadily rising gas prices have become a major factor for many buyers who are now opting for smaller, more fuel-efficient automobiles.

“High gasoline prices have made SUVs impractical and have driven people out of the marketplace who would have wanted the distinction of owning an SUV,” said George Magliano, and automotive analyst from Global Insight.

Some Washington-area dealers acknowledge this trend, such as Greg Jones, a sales manager at Crystal Ford in Silver Spring.

“Nobody is setting the world on fire here, but sales are holding up pretty good compared to everyone else.”

Mr. Jones said SUV sales have declined since the early 2000s, but he is hopeful that they will pick up with Ford’s new product lines.

Other area dealers are more upbeat about luxury SUV sales.

“The new Chevy Tahoes and Suburbans are doing quite well, so gas isn’t affecting sales that much,” said Jason Fischbein, truck manager at Criswell Chevrolet in Gaithersburg.

“These are $40,000 vehicles so if gas is an issue, people don’t buy these products,” Mr. Fischbein said.

The 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban both get 14 miles per gallon in city driving conditions, the Energy Department said.

Analysts link this phenomenon to the idea that there are consumers who want the status that comes with driving a large, expensive SUV.

“There are still going to be people who prefer driving a large SUV regardless of fuel prices,” said Mike McKenzie, an analyst at the automotive institute of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, one of the Big Four accounting firms.

“We’re still going to see full-sized SUVs on the road because of the market demand, but fuel economy is going to play a bigger role.”

Mr. Browdy is optimistic that the local demand for large, luxury SUVs will continue into the future despite the emergence of smaller, fuel-efficient automobiles.

“I remember one person who recently came in and traded his Toyota Prius for a Hummer. His wife told him buy a Prius but he hated it. He traded it in after a few months, saying it had no panache and it was too slow.

“For most people your car is an extension of you ego, and for us Americans we love to drive something that has lots of technology and power.”

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