August 2012 is shaping up as another strong month for car sales, with the total number of new vehicles sold up nearly 19% compared to the same time last year. But some categories of vehicles are experiencing hotter sales than others, and it’s not much of a mystery why.
According to a new report from Kelley Blue Book, “Gas prices have increased by $0.30 per gallon since early July, and as a result, Kelley Blue Book has seen an increased interest in fuel-sipping small cars both in terms of KBB.com shopper activity and retail sales volume.” The subcompact category is seeing the biggest year-over-year increase in sales. Dealerships are on pace in August 2012 to sell 57,300 subcompact cars, a 42% increase from last August’s total. Compacts have also been hot, with 182,050 vehicles expected to be sold by month’s end, a 31% year-over-year rise.
The other car category boasting a year-over-year sales increase in excess of 30% is the compact crossover. The Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and other of these smaller, more fuel-efficient offspring of bulky SUVs of the past have soared to popularity in recent years, and remain especially hot while gas prices rise. Sales of compact crossovers are up 38% in August, compared to last year.
On the other hand, sales of full-size pickups, which aren’t exactly known for good gas mileage, increased by just 6.7% this month, compared to August 2011.
Increased sales of fuel-efficient car models have also caused the overall average fuel economy of new vehicles sold to rise. TrueCar estimates that in July, the average was 23.1 mpg for all new light vehicle purchases. That represents an increase over June’s average (23.0 mpg), and it’s the first time in three months that the average mpg inched up at all.
The subtle fluctuations in new car fuel economy average pretty much mirror this year’s rise and fall of gas prices. The average fell slightly during the spring and early summer, when gas prices were dropping, and then crept back up in July hand in hand with rising prices at the pump. Similarly, when gas prices spiked earlier in 2012, sales of compacts and other small cars soared, pushing average new-car fuel economy upward.
The latest forecasts call for the highest-ever end of summer gas prices, which will bring pain at the pump for drivers—and strong sales of small, fuel-efficient vehicles at car dealerships.