Gas prices influencing car trade 

Trucks still sell, but Whistler customers conscious of right-sizing vehicles

By Andrew Mitchell

Gas prices are expected to continue to fluctuate across Canada through the summer months, while remaining consistently above the $1 per litre mark.

Prices reached as high as $1.27 per litre in the Lower Mainland this spring, but dipped as low as $1.01 in Abbotsford this week.

Nationally, May 2007 prices were up an average of 5.8 per cent over May 2006 prices, according to Statistics Canada, and gasoline prices are recognized as one of the leading causes of higher than normal inflation rates.

While higher gas prices put an additional burden on families, they are also influencing the decisions people are making when purchasing new vehicles. Small car sales are up across Canada, as are the sale of hybrid and diesel vehicles.

Selling used cars to the people of Whistler, Joe Maika is seeing the transition first-hand. A few years ago Fine Motor Cars kept an inventory of mostly trucks and SUVs, but now more than half the vehicles on the lot are cars and station wagons that are now in demand by cost-conscious customers.

“Fuel efficiency is a huge focus,” he said. “There are a couple of websites we go to to research fuel efficiency and we’re constantly referring our customers to them. I almost have to have that information on the top of my head when I’m talking to customers, because they want to know the fuel efficiency of each vehicle. It comes into every sales conversation I would say, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

Trucks remain a good seller, he says, and will continue to sell well given the size of the local construction industry. However, Maika has noticed that customers are less focused on buying trucks in general than ensuring they get the right sized truck for the job.

“On the positive side, people are focusing more on what they expect to use the truck for, and not so much on the cool factor,” he said. “A contractor who is using his truck to cart around 2X10s is figuring out that maybe he doesn’t need a huge 350, it doesn’t make sense for him.”

Instead of asking themselves what’s the biggest vehicle they can afford, added Maika, customers are asking themselves what’s the smallest vehicle they can get away with. For example, people who would normally put a snowmobile or two on the back of a truck are realizing they can access most local trails with a smaller vehicle and a trailer.

While gas prices are having an influence on driver behaviour, Maika believes more can be done to encourage people to downsize vehicles by offering tax breaks to people who purchase fuel-efficient models. He also believes that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) can make insurance more affordable for people who need bigger vehicles for work but would prefer to have a smaller second car for commuting and getting around.

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