Small cars make big gains on rising gas prices

Pain at the pump is translating into big-car blues on the showroom floor.

The New Car Insights Report, from, indicates that 9 of 20 vehicles on January’s Big Movers list – which represents vehicles that have accrued a notable increase in shopper attention – are compacts. Two are hybrids.

Could this spell the end of the gas-guzzler of grandpa’s day and the dawn of a new era when fuel prices, not horsepower, drive vehicle purchases? For a little while, at least, the report author says.

“Gas prices have been on the minds of shoppers lately, and our most recent tracking study showed that 54 percent of consumers said their vehicle choice was affected by this issue,” Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights at, said in a statement. 

“With projections of even higher gas prices to come during the heavy driving season over the summer, we will likely see a continuation in this surge of interest occurring for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.”

The biggest mover, according to the report, is the Buick Verano, which is billed as a compact sedan and gets 21 mpg city and 31 highway, according to the EPA—not great, but perhaps not bad for a car that has “luxury” pretensions. 

The Buick saw a 95.7 percent increase in consumer interest month-over-month, followed distantly by the Subaru Impreza with a 39.4 percent increase. The Toyota Prius came in third, at 38.1 percent, but Toyota overall swept the ranks, slotting in not only the Prius but the Prius V (23.7 percent), the Corolla and the Yaris, the latter two with increases of 20 percent and 19.5 percent. A few domestic compacts – the Chevrolet Sonic (31.8 percent), Dodge Caliber (28.8 percent) and Ford Focus (27.6 percent) and Chevrolet Cruze (19.6 percent) – also received their fair share of attention.

But if compact cars were the biggest gainers in January, at 1.1 points, full-sized trucks were the biggest losers, down 1.7 points. Not so in the year-over-year trending however, where trucks were up a sizable 3.3 points this January compared to last, reflecting continued interest in full-sized trucks, especially by a niche audience that needs larger vehicles for work or business. And talking about size, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, or Evo for short, a full-sized sedan, came in fifth, even though its mpg rating is 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway, according to the EPA.

* Jeanne Roberts, EarthTechling