One thing we know for sure now that gasoline is nearing the $4/gallon mark is that consumers are changing their vehicle preferences. The days when every soccer mom in the country seemingly drove around in a 6,000-pound Suburban are near an end. To whit, SUV sales were down 14 percent in March compared with a year ago, and owners trying to get rid of their gas-guzzling SUVs are getting very little on their trade-ins. A friend who owns a big SUV recently talked to a new car salesman about getting a smaller replacement. The saleman’s take? “It’s a great time to buy an SUV as long as you’re not trying to trade one in.”
I’ve even read reports about dealers trying to unload their burgeoning SUV inventories by shipping new and used units overseas to places like Russia and the Middle East. The long and short of it is that with high gas prices and increasingly strict regulations (President Bush proposed this week that the country implement CAFE standards faster than the Congressionally legislated 2020 date), the cars Americans drive will increasingly look like those in Europe, Japan and other places, i.e. small, front-wheel-drive, possibly turbocharged, etc. What does it mean for the lube industry? Smaller engines, possibly larger crankcase capacities, more expensive motor oils that can cope with the increased underhood heat generated by these small mills — and that’s just to name a few. It won’t be gloom and doom, but it will be different once the American vehicle population shifts toward smaller, more efficient cars and light trucks.