Pickup Sales Pick up Thanks to Cheaper Gas

Jim Ellis Chevrolet in Atlanta has about 120 leftover 2008 model trucks and SUVs to sell. Normally by Halloween, it would have almost none of last year's models lurking on the lot.

That's the bad news. The good news is that buyers are starting to come out of their fallout shelters and take a look at the deals, now that gas is back below $3 a gallon and desperate manufacturers are piling on discounts.

"The last two weeks, our truck activity has picked up," says Mark Frost, the dealership's general manager. The dealership is promoting big discounts – as much $12,000 off a Chevy Tahoe sport-utility vehicle – and telling business owners that thanks to the economic-stimulus bill Congress passed earlier this year, they may qualify for big tax breaks on vehicles purchased for commercial use.

Sales haven't rebounded to the level they were before $4 a gallon gas and the credit crunch slammed the market, he says. But selling 30 or 40 trucks a month beats selling just 15.

Mr. Frost says he has a message for potential customers who think they might want a big pickup truck or SUV. Act now, "because you won't be able to touch this stuff for the same amount" once the leftover 2008s are gone. "They are making so many fewer of them."

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You might think that a motoring public that got smacked in the head by an economic two-by-four this summer when gas prices surged to record levels would shun big, fuel-swilling trucks forever after. But the U.S. auto market is more complicated than that – something federal government officials might consider as they weigh whether to commit American taxpayers to the role of minority investors in General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

The signs of a rebound in demand for large pickups reflect a basic truth about the way vehicle demand and energy prices interact. Americans will do what they please for as long as they can afford it. Large pickups and large SUVs were among the best-selling vehicles in America when gas was cheap, because people who bought them liked them.

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