With oil gurgling at around $52 per barrel and the average national price of a gallon of gasoline at $2.78, we are starting to see the effects of sustained lower fuel prices on product plans.
- Buyers are migrating to bigger, heavier, fuel-thirstier vehicles. In the first half of the year, trucks captured 54 percent of the new-vehicle market, up from 51 percent during the first half of 2014.
- Sales of many small cars are tanking, especially for those with pricey fuel-saving powertrains. Mazda isn’t bringing the next-generation Mazda2 subcompact to the United States for 2016, though a version will be sold under Toyota’s Scion badge. When the new Chevrolet Cruze arrives this fall, the optional diesel engine won’t be available -- though it will return sometime in the future.
- Production is being moved in an effort to maximize profits. Ford said last week that it is booting the fuel-efficient Focus and its electrified stablemates, the Focus Electric and C-Max hybrid, out of a suburban Detroit plant. Ford has not said what vehicle, if any, will replace the Focus, but I’d bet the highly profitable Explorer, which Ford can’t build enough of in Chicago, is a viable candidate for that plant.
- Most hybrids and electrics are struggling. Honda is taking the Accord Hybrid off the market for a year while production is transferred from Ohio to Japan. Honda has also killed the Civic Hybrid. Buyers who once lined up for a Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius or Ford C-Max are long gone. Through June, Leaf sales are off 23 percent; Prius sales are down 16 percent, and Chevrolet Volt sales have slipped 35 percent. To be fair, these vehicles are on the cusp of being revamped, which could be keeping some buyers on the sidelines.
- General Motors is forging ahead with plans to launch the next-generation Volt plug-in hybrid later this year. But it’s one and done for the Cadillac ELR, which won’t be replaced, nor will the current model get the 2016 Volt’s revamped range extender powertrain.