Toyota and General Motors were among automakers whose compact cars and hybrids received a jump in shopper interest last month as gas prices approached $3.40 a gallon, according to the New Car Insights Report on AutoTrader.com.

Four Toyotas – the Prius and Prius V hybrids and Corolla and Yaris compacts – were among the 20 models that were subject to the largest increase in customer interest between December and January, according to the report. Shopping interest in GMs Buick Verano compact sedan almost doubled in January, marking the largest jump, while Chevrolet's Sonic and Cruze compact models also made the top 20. The Subaru Impreza also had a surge in consumer interest last month.

Overall, the number of people shopping for compacts rose 1.1 percentage points while full-size trucks had a 1.7 percentage-point drop in consumer interest. Shoppers may be gearing up for the heavier spring and summer driving seasons – and the resulting gas-price increases – by looking at more fuel-efficient cars.

U.S. fuel prices rose almost 20 cents a gallon last month to about $3.53 a gallon, and are up about 12 percent in the past year, according to AAA. Last year, refueling costs accounted for 8.4 percent of an average family's annual income, the highest number in 30 years.
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SMALL AND FUEL-EFFICIENT CARS MAKE BIG GAINS AS GAS PRICES INCREASE
Shoppers turned their attention toward compact and hybrid cars amid rising gas prices in January, according to the New Car Insights Report from AutoTrader.com.
ATLANTA – February 22, 2012 /PRNewswire/ - As gas prices crept up to a national average of nearly $3.40 per gallon in January, shoppers quickly turned their attention to smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to the New Car Insights Report, which provides analysis of consumer shopping behavior on the AutoTrader.com site. The report shows that compact cars accounted for nine out of the 20 vehicles on the list of Big Movers in January, and there were two hybrid vehicles on the list as well. Big Movers are vehicles that have experienced a significant increase in shopper interest month-over-month.

"Gas prices have been on the minds of shoppers lately, and our most recent tracking study showed that 54 percent of consumers said their vehicle choice was affected by this issue," said Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights at AutoTrader.com. "With projections of even higher gas prices to come during the heavy driving season over the summer, we will likely see a continuation in this surge of interest occurring for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles."

On the list of Big Movers, the Buick Verano made the biggest jump, with a 95.7% increase in share of consumer interest month-over-month. The Subaru Impreza came in at No. 2 with a 39.4% increase in shopper interest. Toyota, however, claimed the most spots on the list of any automaker, with four fuel-efficient vehicles. The Toyota Prius experienced an increase in consumer interest of 38.1 percent, and interest in the recently released Toyota Prius V increased 23.7 percent. In addition to these hybrids, Toyota also had two compact cars on the list: the Toyota Corolla and Yaris, with increases of 20 percent and 19.5 percent, respectively.

Additionally, there were several compact vehicles from domestic automakers on the list of Big Movers as well, with the Chevrolet Sonic, Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze experiencing notable increases in consumer interest. The Sonic experienced an increase of 31.8 percent, the Caliber experienced an increase of 28.8 percent, the Focus experienced an increase of 27.6 percent and the Cruze experienced an increase of 19.6 percent.

"We are watching the competitive compact segment closely," Wainschel continued. "After a challenging 2011, Toyota appears to be bouncing back and regaining interest from shoppers, which bodes well for the automaker. And while the big three domestic automakers haven't traditionally fared well with small cars, they are certainly holding their own in our recent shopping trends."

At the segment level, renewed interest in compact cars in January buoyed the segment as a whole. Month-over-month, the compact car segment posted the largest increase in share of interest, at 1.1 points. Conversely, the full-size truck segment posted the largest decrease in share of interest at 1.7 points. These trends support the assertion that the increase in gas prices in January had some effect on which cars shoppers are considering.

While compact cars have enjoyed a recent resurgence, analysts pointed out that it is also important to consider the year-over-year trending as well. As a segment, full-size trucks are up significantly (3.3 share points) from their position in January 2011, an indication that, while the recent increases in gas prices have fueled a month-over-month spike in interest for smaller cars, there is still a sizable portion of the shopping audience that wants-and needs-larger trucks, which are typically associated with many work-related endeavors.



Full Report Available Online
The New Car Insights Report, brought to you by the AutoTrader.com Trend Engine, provides analysis of new car shopper behavior on the AutoTrader.com site. The February edition, available online, includes more in-depth information on the above topics, as well as a look at the top 20 Most-Viewed Vehicles on AutoTrader.com in January and a look at trends in asking prices. To access the full report, complete with downloadable graphics, click here.

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