With gasoline heading for $4 a gallon and the U.S. economy slipping deeper into the doldrums, it's time to look at what new-vehicle customers are and are not buying.
In the first quarter of 2008, there were 3,578,680 sales of new cars and light trucks, down 8.0 percent or 310,885 units from the year-ago quarter.
Let's do the easy part first. Consumers are not buying trucks. Pickup sales dipped 15.0 percent in the first quarter, and SUV sales plunged 24.5 percent. Four of the five SUV segments were in free fall, with losses of more than 23 percent.
But sales in the premium-large group were off just 10.1 percent. People who can afford those big boats are not much concerned with the price of gasoline. Premium-large SUVs include the Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Hummer, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz G and GL and Volks-wagen Touareg.
Strangely, sales of some high-priced SUVs rose in the quarter. Deliveries of the Lexus LX more than doubled. Porsche Cayenne sales rose 11.0 percent. The Infiniti QX56 was up 10.6 percent. And the Toyota Land Cruiser, which has barely changed since it arrived in this country 50 years ago, spurted up 78.4 percent.
Twelve minivans are on the market, and buyers are saying "no, thank you" to eight of them. The four other nameplates account for nearly 80 percent of sales: the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Overall minivan sales fell 20 percent for the quarter.