NEW YORK – Record pump prices won't cool America's love affair with the open road, although drivers are starting to fuel their passion with smaller, more efficient vehicles, auto group AAA (search) said.
"Our historical experience tells us Americans will not give up their travel plans due to high prices of fuel," said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA. "But we think we're already starting to see consumer backlash against high fuel prices in car sales, and that trend may continue."
Average U.S. regular gasoline prices have spiked more than 15 cents in one month to $2.05 a gallon, matching last spring's record, and are expected to keep climbing in the coming days due to soaring costs for crude, AAA said.
The skyrocketing price for motor fuel has begun hurting sales of large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, and may be sparking the first shift toward smaller, more fuel-efficient cars since the 1970's.
According to Edmunds.com (search), which tracks sales in the auto industry, gas-thirsty, full-sized SUVs lost 1.2 percentage points of U.S. market share over the last two months and large pickups were down about 2 percentage points.
Fuel-efficient compact cars, on the other hand, gained 2.2 percentage points of market share in the same period.
"What we're seeing is big waiting lists for hybrid cars at the dealerships," said Sundstrom.
AAA is asking its nearly 50 million members to consider buying cars with greater fuel efficiency (search) when they replace their current vehicle, he added.
Surging gasoline costs come about two months before the traditional start to the driving season — when warmer weather draws more Americans to the roads for vacation — spurring some concern that travel demand growth may slow this year.
"We had record prices last year and we had a very strong year for driving," said Sundstrom. "This year, we're expecting more of the same."
Last summer's travel season was the most active since 2001, according to AAA.