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Look to the Lone Star State to see the impact of rising gas prices

A few weeks ago, Texas Ford dealer Mitchell Dale told me the escalating gasoline price was the water cooler topic.

Dale sensed -- once Texas gas prices flirted with $4 a gallon -- that customers would start buying small cars and crossovers. He appears correct.

The price of gas in Texas is $3.357- to-$3.401 per gallon, according to AAA.

“Even in Texas, where the state bird and the state flower is a full-size pickup, small car sales were up 3.1 points in February versus a year ago and small utilities were up 1.1 points,” wrote George Pipas, Ford Motor Co.’s head sales analyst, in an e-mail.

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, says consumers will change their buying choices when gas hits $4.50 per gallon.

The current national average gas price is $3.471 a gallon. Last month, when gas prices were just pennies less, small vehicle retail sales still rose. At the end of February, small cars comprised 21.5 percent of total U.S. retail sales, up 2.1 percentage points from a year ago, Pipas said. Crossovers rose 1.3 percentage points to 14.5 percent of U.S. retail sales.

Granted, the pump price isn’t the only factor to move the needle on small vehicle sales -- redesigned body styles and technological advancements help.

When the segment grows among green-friendly drivers in California metro areas, that’s ‘dog bites man.’

But when it soars in the heart of truck country -- the dog better watch out.

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