For a sign of the challenges in selling fuel efficiency as a virtue, Tanner Hulette need only look at the signs near his dealership advertising gasoline for $2.70 a gallon.
Hulette, general manager of Mechanicsville Toyota near Richmond, Va., said he's seeing higher demand for pickups and SUVs, and less interest in the Prius hybrid. The store's year-to-date light-truck sales are up 5 percent while car sales are down 5 percent.
"The floor traffic is dictated by what's going on with fuel," Hulette said. "If we didn't have SUVs and light trucks right now we'd definitely be feeling some pain."
The national average price of gasoline hit $3.14 per gallon last Friday, the lowest level since at least February 2011, after falling 10 cents per gallon last week alone, the fastest rate of decline in roughly two years, according to AAA.
Gasoline prices tend to decline every fall, but the recent drop highlights what analysts and economists see as a broader trend toward moderate and more stable fuel prices in the U.S., one fueled by the boom in U.S. oil production, a more efficient fleet and softening global demand for oil.