Has the Death of the SUV Arrived?

"That really indicates that this isn't really a blip, but a shift in demand that they are going to see over time," he said. "I am a little surprised, because we have seen similar things in the past and we have seen the full-sized truck and SUV market come back."

But this time, he said, there is a greater concern about gas prices, and there are more fuel-efficient alternatives available, such as eight-passenger crossover vehicles.

Christina Hay lives in Fenton, Mich., and like many Americans, has been struggling with high gas prices. Last year she leased a Honda Ridgeline pick-up. Now, she is looking to get out of her lease to get "a small car like a Honda Civic or Fit to save on gas.

"This is killing me," she said. "Seventeen miles to the gallon isn't cutting it."

In September, the 2005 Toyota Sequoia sold for $22,700. Today, it sells for $20,100.

Most Americans apparently feel like Hay and are looking for those more-efficient cars.

In March and April of this year, new large SUVs sat on dealer lots an average of 69 days, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The typical compact took 54 days to sell.

"We're seeing a pretty radical shift from trucks to cars," said Michael E. Maroone, president and chief operating officer of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the country. "We're seeing the same radical movement from low fuel economy to high fuel economy. It's a structural change in the business."

Maroone places the blame squarely on high gas prices and the squeeze they put on people's disposable incomes.

A year ago, the Honda Pilot sold for $18,500. Today, it sells for $14,800.

AutoNation has seen "an absolute surge" in trade-ins of large SUVs, Maroone said. American drivers are not just trying to save on their weekly gas bills, but also driving cheaper cars with lower monthly lease or loan payments.

AutoNation, which sells 550,000 cars a year, includes 21 Toyota dealerships. Maroone said that everyone has a waiting list -- of several months -- to purchase Toyota's popular hybrid Prius.

Some potential buyers also find that they can't afford a new car because they actually owe more on their existing vehicle than it is worth. Maroone said the reason is two-fold. First, the trade-in value of SUVs has fallen so much. Second, drivers look to sell near the start of their loan period when they have yet to pay off much of the principal on their loans.

For them, and many other motorists, it might not be fiscally prudent to trade-in their gas guzzlers. But, next time around, they will probably go with a more efficient car.

"I think the smart money says that fuel prices are not going down over the long term," Maroone said. "If anything, there is a pressure that they may go up."

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