Is $3.25 to $3.50 a gallon the long-awaited for inflexion point for driving a shift in U.S. car-buying habits? Obviously we can’t know for sure, but the Detroit News reported that “cars outsold light trucks” in March. (One auto industry insider told me yesterday that this was only the second time that has ever happened in some two decades.)

Yes, the recession no doubt had an impact on the sales of big, expensive vehicles. But since gasoline prices are going to mostly be going up over the next decade or two, possibly to well above $4 or even $5 a gallon (see “Peak Oil? Bring it on!“), this should be (yet one more) wake-up call to Detroit.

What exactly happened in March? According to a blog:

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In March, small cars like the Ford Focus — up 24 percent — and Honda Fit — up 73.8 percent — were bright spots almost universally among automakers. Hybrid sales were also up. On the other end of the spectrum, trucks like the Ford F-Series — down 23.8 percent — and Dodge Ram — down 31 percent — saw huge losses, as did truck-based SUVs.

Here are their numbers for March 2008 sales performance for a spectrum of cars, trucks, SUVs, and hybrids:


Chevy Cobalt: Down 23.8 percent
Dodge Caliber: Up 10 percent
Ford Focus: Up 24 percent
Honda Civic: Up 18.3 percent
Honda Fit: Up 73.8 percent
Hyundai Elantra: Up 11.1 percent
Kia Spectra: Up 41.3 percent
Mitsubishi Lancer: Up 32.7 percent
Nissan Sentra: Up 21.4 percent
Nissan Versa: Up 34.2 percent
Toyota Corolla: Down 21.3 percent (mainly due to the changeover to the 2009 model)
Toyota Yaris: Up 83.2 percent
VW Jetta: Up 19.7 percent

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Honda Civic Hybrid: Up 44.3 percent
Toyota Prius: Up 16 percent

Trucks and SUVs

BMW X5: Down 41.9 percent
Chevy Silverado: Down 23.5 percent
Chevy Tahoe: Down 34.2 percent
Dodge Durango: Down 38 percent
Ford Explorer: Down 14.8 percent
Ford F-Series: Down 23.8 percent
Honda Pilot: Down 23.6 percent
Hummer H3: Down 32.6 percent
Lexus LX 570: Up 156.1 percent
Nissan Titan: Down 44.9 percent
Toyota Sequoia: Up 19.8 percent
Toyota Tundra: Up 16.8 percent

(Note: “Some companies adjust percentages due to selling days. 2008 had two fewer selling days than 2007, so the percentages may appear higher.”)

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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