Downsizing vehicles

first_imgIn the land of $3-a-gallon gasoline, the Samurai warriors roll with pride. Car buffs used to drool over such stats as horsepower, torque and top speed, but there’s a new status symbol in the motoring world: miles per gallon. Because automobiles live on petroleum-based products – gasoline powers their engines, oil keeps them running and is used to manufacture their belts and gaskets – the price of putting just about everything into a car gets incrementally more expensive when oil prices crest at $60 a barrel. Faced with those hikes, one of the few costs that drivers can contain is the amount of gasoline they consume. In a car town like Los Angeles, ditching your ride’s not an option for most, so motorists can either drive less or find a new way to get around. Thoughts like that have pushed large SUV sales down this year, and Vespa of California’s Sherman Oaks branch reports sales for its 65 mpg scooters have increased 25 percent in the past several months. Hybrid cars have attained rock-star status, with their high fuel-economy rating outweighing their high prices. “Many families in the state still have a minivan or an SUV in the garage, but they’re buying more fuel-efficient cars for commutes or quick errands,” said Marcella Rojas, a spokeswoman for the California Motor Car Dealers Association. Toyota’s sleek Prius is chief on that list, Rojas said, along with hybrid versions of Honda’s Civics and Accords, Ford’s Escape and the Lexus RX-400h. Consumers will have even more choices for the gasoline-and-electric-drive vehicles in coming years, with Ford’s recent pledge that half of its nameplates will be available in hybrid form by 2010. Though still a small sliver of the overall auto market, hybrids and more fuel-efficient driving habits have indeed altered the overall consumption of gasoline. Demand for gasoline has been flat this year, according to the American Petroleum Institute, a sharp contrast to recent years when lower prices let drivers top off their inefficient rides without a care. In past spikes at the pump, drivers kept filling up without denting demand, but Rayola Dougher, the trade group’s manager of energy market issues, said this year’s dramatic run-ups in price finally shocked them into cutting back on their gasoline consumption. “People did respond to price this time,” she said. “It’s been very dramatic for people to see $3 gasoline. They really changed the way they drive – or don’t drive.” That’s why Patrick Bunyamanop, a Glendale financial planner, finds himself in the Samurai caravan. He used to think nothing of gassing up and heading for the desert for off-road joy rides. Now, he’s rolling proudly – and efficiently – in a truck few would mistake for tough. “It’s totally changed my life,” he said, reflecting on the price at the pump. “It’s so high, it really limits what you can do.” Brent Hopkins, (818) 713-3738 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 For Julie Casey, who was driving 250 miles a week for her job as a benefits specialist for Los Angeles County employees, her Ford F-150 pickup truck had to go to the garage. She dropped $1,500 on a tiny Suzuki Samurai, buying into an oddly chic new clique. “I feel like I’m in high school,” she said, eyeing the 18-year-old miniature sport utility vehicle. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I’d drive a car like that, but six of my friends have them. It’s the gas.” The La Crescenta resident was spending $100 a week to fuel up her Ford, a bill that should drop to $30 with the Samurai’s 27-29 mpg fuel efficiency. Her pals used to roar around in their massive off-road trucks, guzzling gasoline with their muscular V-8s and fat tires, but most have now switched to the minuscule Suzukis, sandwiching their big frames between its little steering wheel and bucket seat. “I’ve got a big truck, but I can’t afford to drive it,” said Alberto Tejera, an Echo Park mechanic who parked his Dodge 2500 in favor of the little sport utility vehicle. “With this, I put in $10 today and I got half a tank!” last_img

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