A growing enthusiasm for smaller, more fuel-friendly cars may mark the end of America”s love affair with the sport-utility vehicle. The results of a recent study by the University”s Transportation Research Institute predict that the next decade will mark a significant shift in consumer buying trends.

Paul Wong
Judy Burt of Ann Arbor drives a sport-utility vehicle, but a new survey shows small cars are gaining popularity.<br><br>DEBBIE MIZEL/Daily

The study found that while purchase price and lease terms will continue to be important factors for consumers buying vehicles, fuel economy, safety and vehicle technology will play an increasingly influential role on consumer”s vehicle-buying decisions through 2009.

This shift in criteria, said Mike Flynn, director of research at the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, will motivate car companies to develop more fuel-friendly and cost-effective vehicles. “There will be a mass penetration of alternative-fuel cars in the future market, and by 2004 we are going to see a number of diesel- and gasoline-electric hybrid cars and trucks that are less environmentally costly,” he said.

The two major companies that already have gasoline-electric hybrid cars on the American market are Chrysler and Honda.

Cheick Haidara, a client adviser at Ann Arbor Acura, which is owned by Honda, said the car manufacturer is enjoying increasing success.

“The demand for Acura is so high, we don”t have enough cars for the customers. People have to order the car they want and wait for 90-120 days.”

Haidara cites the quality and cost of the cars as the main factors that attract people to Acura.

LSA freshman Tania Zaman, who owns a Toyota Camry, added that gas mileage and personal preference are also important factors when deciding what car to buy. “I like my car because I don”t feel like I”m driving a bus, and gas is much cheaper,” she said.

LSA freshman Swaytha Yalamanchi said she has safety concerns about large vehicles. “They”re a safety hazard to the people driving them because they flip over and to the people driving small cars because a collision with an SUV could be fatal.”

Flynn explained that SUVs are built with a higher center of gravity, thus making them more prone to rollovers. “People think SUVs are safer because they”re sitting high up but the size of the vehicle gives them a false sense of security.”

When asked if they would consider buying an alternative-fuel vehicle, both Zaman and Yalamanchi hesitated.

Zaman worried about the price, and Yalamanchi decided she”d wait until the technology of the cars are perfected.

Flynn predicts a mass influx of hybrid cars into the market will decrease both the cost and the uncertainties surrounding the use of alternative-fuel cars, so that by 2009 these new vehicles will all but replace the gas-guzzlers that preceded them.

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