In recovery? High gas prices keep SUV sales at slow pace

— Car shoppers today are hesitant to buy a vehicle that will cost them even more at the gas pump.

"You just don't see the guys coming in for toy trucks anymore," said Manny Lorenzo, sales manager at Germain Toyota of Naples.

Even with a rebounding economy, Toyota and other local car dealerships said sales have fallen off for gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. Dealerships said memories of the recession and fluctuating gas prices are making car-buyers more conservative and money-conscious.

"People learned a lesson from the past few years," Lorenzo said. "They're not going to repeat that mistake again."

Both Tamiami Ford and Bob Taylor Chevrolet of Naples have had steady sales in 2012 of more fuel-efficient SUVS, like the Ford Edge, Ford Escape and the Chevrolet Equinox. Those SUVs boast an average of 25 to 30 miles per gallon on the highway. Whereas others, like the Chevy Suburban, get an average of 15 to 20 miles per gallon on the highway.

Jim Ellis, sales manager for Tamiami Ford, said his customers are more cautious.

"A lot of people held out for quite awhile," he said. "Then there comes a time when they'll buy."

He said those wanting to save money won't get the sunroof or the built-in navigational system.

"People will buy what they want and within their budget," he said.

Jim Loucy, the sales manager with Bob Taylor Chevrolet, said truck sales have tailed off. He attributes that to a "truck fad" in the mid-2000s. Like Lorenzo, Loucy said he doesn't see customers buying a truck anymore just because they want one.

"I've seen those people trade back out of them and get something more economical," he said.

But customers who own small landscaping or construction businesses are still buying trucks. Sales managers said these customers will still buy the larger vehicles for functional reasons.

"The SUVs and trucks aren't going to go away," Lorenzo said. "Manufacturers will just have to come up with better fuel efficiency."

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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