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    Americans Cut Back on Gas, but Not on Guzzlers

    High pump prices haven't slowed truck and SUV sales.

    WASHINGTON -- While high prices are curbing gasoline demand somewhat, they're not affecting the American appetite for gas guzzlers, according to the Dallas Morning News.

    John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, said Tuesday that growth in gasoline demand is slowing, despite a booming economy. Through May, demand is up 2.6 percent, API figures show, and preliminary numbers for the first three weeks of June show a decline of 2 percent.

    "Price is beginning to affect demand," Felmy said.

    That's not coming through in truck and auto sales, said Paul Ballew, executive director of market and industry analysis with General Motors Corp. "We've seen no change in consumer buying habits. Trucks are still going up," Ballew said.

    Crude oil and gasoline prices hit historic highs a month ago. Nationwide, gasoline prices are now down 14 cents a gallon. That still leaves consumers paying nearly 43 cents more for a gallon of gas than they did a year ago.

    Yet consumers are on a pace to buy 2 million more pickups and sport utility vehicles than automobiles this year, Ballew said in a midyear briefing for reporters. One in 10 auto purchases will be in the luxury category, up from one in 20 purchases 10 years ago.

    "When the typical SUV owner comes from a $100,000 income household, we're having a hard time finding evidence that today's gas prices are going to tip the scale," said Ballew.

    Other auto analysts and dealers have seen indications that consumers are becoming more fuel-conscious in their buying preferences. Demand is strong for hybrids made by Honda and Toyota that get more than 50 miles to a gallon by relying significantly on electric power.

    Ballew said GM agrees that hybrids and, ultimately, cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells are the way of the future. The automaker plans to introduce several hybrid trucks and cars in the next three years and began selling a hybrid bus this year.

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