Web data point to declining interest in pickup trucks
February sales data pointed to a strong month for both trucks and more fuel-efficient small cars and hybrids.
Automakers generally attributed strong truck sales to the need by tradespeople and businesses to replace aging vehicles after delaying purchases because of the troubled economy.
Now there's some early evidence that truck sales could start to slow.
Web searches for price and other information about full-size pickup trucks have accounted for about 5% of the traffic at auto information company Edmunds.com. That's dived to 3.5% in recent weeks as gas prices have started to rise.
Meanwhile, interest in compact cars jumped to 13.3% last week after averaging about 11% of the Edmunds.com traffic for much of last year. Searches for information about smaller subcompact cars accounted for 6.6% of the traffic, up from about 5% for much of the past year.
Web traffic for both is now at 14-month highs.
"Consumers are beginning to change their shopping habits in response to ever-increasing fuel costs," said Ivan Drury, an analyst at Edmunds.com. "It looks like the early indicators are all there, and if fuel costs get any higher the shoppers will turn into buyers."
For the week that ended Monday, the average U.S. price of a gallon of regular gasoline leaped to $3.383, up 19.4 cents from the previous week, the Energy Department said, as oil prices have moved higher on unrest in Libya and the Mideast. That was 68 cents higher than a year earlier, bringing the average to a record high for this time of the year but still well below the national record of $4.114 a gallon reached in July 2008.
In California, the average price climbed 16.4 cents to $3.719. That was 72 cents higher than the year-earlier price, and experts predicted that the state's average would top $4 a gallon in the coming weeks.
-- Jerry Hirsch