Gas prices don’t cause Mainers to stray from SUVs

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ORONO,(AP) -A federally funded survey by the University of Maine shows that the state’s love affair with sport utility vehicles isn’t dampened by high gas prices.

The survey, conducted in 2004 and 2005, asked 1,200 Mainers what type of vehicle – car, station wagon and minivan, SUV and personal pickup truck – they would buy if they were currently in the market for a new vehicle.

The average price of gasoline ranged from $1.88 to $2.59 per gallon during the survey.

“The most significant thing that we found is that people were less likely to select a truck when gas prices went up,” said Jack Cohen, a senior honors student in environmental management and policy.

But preference for SUVs, despite their low gas mileage, was not diminished by the higher gas prices.

“The demand for SUVs is very inelastic, it doesn’t move. People’s buying decisions around SUVs involve a cultural populiarity. People are willing to put up with more to drive them,” Cohen said.

Cohen also noted that 60 percent of survey resondents felt that all vehicles polluted the same amount, but that people were less likely to select trucks or SUVs when they believed them to be more polluting.

The finding that preferences for trucks diminishes as gas prices rise runs counter to market data that show truck sales remain stable.

But Cohen and his faculty advisor, Professor Todd Gabe, said purchasing decisions may reflect other factors, such as a vehicle’s popularity or utility.

“People who need to buy a truck for their job, they’re going to buy a truck,” Gabe said. “Although people’s views of gas prices and concerns for the environment may be considered, the use of the vehicle is still the determinant of choice.”

The Maine Car and Truck Survey was funded in part by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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