With gas prices continuing to soar, "big" seems quickly headed for the has-been bin. Consumers are reconsidering the size-matters mentality of the prosperous 1990s — when SUVs grew in size nearly as fast as the Dow — turning instead toward smaller cars that earn better fuel economy.
Sales of SUVs and pickup trucks from domestic auto manufacturers, in particular, have sagged drastically under the yoke of high energy costs. Earlier this month, Ford announced a 34 percent drop in July sales from the same period the year before. But the pièce de résistance in the blue oval's earnings announcement was a dramatic 44.1 percent drop in light-truck and SUV sales from the preceding month.
Compatriots DaimlerChrysler and General Motors fared almost as poorly. Chrysler Group reported a 37 percent drop in overall sales, accompanied by a stinging 40 percent decline in truck sales. General Motors, meanwhile, kept decreases down to a mere 19 percent largely on the strength of new models.
Foreign manufacturers, including Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai, posted gains on broader vehicle portfolios that included revenue-generating fuel-efficient vehicles as well as some larger models. Sales at those companies were up between 6 percent and 12 percent.
A raft of smaller cars and fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrids has emerged as consumers more closely scrutinize the Environmental Protection Agency's figures on new vehicles' window stickers. But both trends have drawbacks. Those interested in hybrids must sometimes come to terms with hefty price premiums and even waiting lists for the most popular models. Small cars, meanwhile, are just that — small — a potentially dissuading factor for consumers with large families.
Until hybrid power trains become more affordable and make their way into an even broader array of vehicle classes, or alternative fuels materialize on a broad scale, consumers may be forced to make fuel-economy sacrifices for the sake of simple convenience.
The large list
BusinessWeek.com took a look at some of the bigger cars available today to determine which ones combine size, space, and fuel economy on a scale that makes them at least competitive with peer vehicles. The list includes cars with the most manufacturer-reported passenger-and-cargo space and those that are most fuel-efficient.
Because there are more models, options, and power-train possibilities than ever, it isn't possible to compare all the cars on the American market. Moreover, real-world fuel economy often differs — sometimes surprisingly — from EPA estimates. Manufacturers also supply different interior cabin and cargo measurements, further complicating the process.
Nevertheless, using data from the government's www.fueleconomy.gov Web site (which maintains detailed information about fuel consumption), coupled with vehicle data — when available — from Edmunds.com, it is possible to establish a list of some of the biggest cars that offer the best gas mileage. Note that the list sticks strictly to FuelEconomy.gov's vehicle class definitions.