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Rising Cost of Gas in North Carolina Affects Vehicle Sales, Shipping

The impact across the Carolinas of rising gasoline prices...

The impact across the Carolinas of rising gasoline prices, which analysts say may reach $2 a gallon by summer, has gone beyond the pump to slow sales of big cars and raise some shipping costs.

With the prospect of a full tank costing $50 or more for some models, some area shoppers -- but certainly not all -- are postponing plans for sport utility vehicles and looking instead for smaller, more fuel-efficient alternatives.

We just sold our SUV and our neighbor is about to do the same with hers, said Dustin Pursell of Charlotte, who replaced his ride with a 30-mile-per-gallon Acura.

A vehicle that gets 15-20 mpg is tough on the wallet these days, he wrote in an e-mail.

Several smaller businesses said they are feeling the pinch of surcharges by FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Services Inc., which since August have added up to 4 percent to their bills because of rising gas prices.

Many area businesses say it's still too early to tell if the cost of gas will mean more expensive products that have to be shipped long distances, from bread to tropical fish.

But some consumers already are reacting. Paul Rutledge of Huntersville had been shopping for a V-8 to replace his 1994 Camaro, which drinks a $26 tank of gas twice a week. But the prospects of a $100-a-week fuel bill changed his mind.

With these prices, if I got a brand-new car, I'd have to park it at home and take the bus, Rutledge said.

Car buyers are showing more interest in smaller cars, said Robert Glaser, head of the N.C. Automobile Dealers Association.

Consumers are a little less likely to buy that SUV, Glaser said. For a while, we couldn't keep them on the lot. Now they are staying a little longer.

Glaser didn't have figures on SUVs, but said sales for all vehicles probably will be 4.6 percent lower than last year. Gas prices are part of that, but a slowing economy has played a bigger role, he said.

Light trucks, SUVs and vans account for 54 percent of new N.C. sales, compared with 46 percent for cars. Six years ago, cars accounted for 54 percent.

Jim Shlater, new car sales manager at Scott Clark Toyota City in Charlotte, said more customers are test-driving the electric/gas hybrid, the Prius. Toyota holds a lottery to allocate vehicles to eager buyers, who can wait up to five months for a car.

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