Compact Cars: The New Consumer Craze

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Gas guzzling SUVs are out and fuel sipping compacts are in.

Last month, one in five car buyers sought out a smaller car to save on high fuel costs.

Just ten years ago, only one out of eight buyers were looking for something smaller.

Big sports utilities vehicles have been the popular choice for years. They used to rule the road.

But with gas prices edging closer to $4.00 a gallon every week, the oversized SUV means a big tab at the gas pump.

"Every car I have has bad gas mileage, so it would be really nice to have an option that got great gas mileage," car shopper Karen Magee said.

New sales reports show Americans are feeling the pressure to downsize.

All the major SUV brands are down since last year.

Chevy Tahoes have dropped 35 percent, Ford Explorers sales are down 40 percent and Jeep Grand Cherokee's have also hit a major slump at 36 percent below their former figures.

But given the poor gas mileage of these SUVs, it isn't surprising.

According to consumer reports, the Ford Explorer V-8 and Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo are the worst midsized SUVs for gas mileage.

They both get 14 miles per gallon on average and the Tahoe is very similar.

"When you see the large SUV you no longer think status or very cool. You think its just burning fuel," Jessica Caldwell, Auto Analyst for Edmunds.com, said.

So what's the new vehicle of choice? -- Compact and subcompact cars.

Moving briskly off the lots is the Ford Focus at 32 percent. The Toyota Yaris is also selling 46 percent above average and the Honda Fit sales are up an impressive 54 percent.

There's no guessing what's behind this mad dash - some of the best gas mileage figures out there.

The manual transmission Yaris and Fit Sport models get a thrifty 34 miles to the gallon.

And if these traditional gas sippers don't catch your eyes, then what about two other brands that are making a killing: Smart Cars and Vespa Scooters.

The Smart Car for two is a big hit. In fact, most models on the sales lots are already sold. There's a waiting list for the ultra compacts that get 36 plus miles to the gallon.

"Right now we're running at about eight months for you to get a car," said Tim Checkan of Lindsay SmartCenter.

Made popular in Europe, the Smart Cars come in handy for city driving, since two of them can fit in one regular car parking spot.

Many dealers say sales for the Vespa Scooter have doubled this year.

Models run from about two thousand to nine thousand dollars.

All get at least 55 miles to the gallon and the souped-up versions are safe for highway driving.

"The biggest part of it is the fun factor, and you're helping the environment and saving money on gas too," Darren Miles, General Manager of Vespa Sarasota said.

Not everyone is ready to jump on the downsizing bandwagon.

But many Americans believe the high gas prices are here to stay and this is just one way to help your pocketbook at the pump.

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Andrea Garrett

Andrea Garrett

CBN News

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