SUVs running on empty

Well, I’ve said it before, and so have others, but the data is starting to come in that the car-buying public is starting to drastically change its habits.

3 cheers for high gas prices!

Naturally, most of the North American (I mean, American) car manufacturers are caught totally flat-footed … with way too many guzzling gas suckers in their vehicle line-ups and way too few fuel-sipping (and funky and cool and beautiful and pleasurable to drive) smaller automobiles.

They’re addicted to the high-priced, high-margin trucks and SUVs … Ford was supposedly making $10,000 on each new Explorer that rolled off the assembly lines.

Who could have predicted gas prices would go this high? Anyone with a brain and a sense of reality. The storms of ’05 may have brought it on a little swifter, and the war in Iraq has not helped a dime’s worth (quite the reverse), but the reality is that oil is finite, capacity is limited, and demand has been increasing at insane rates.

The annoying thing for those of us who drive fuel-efficient vehicles is that all the SUV drivers out there aren’t only paying more at the pump themselves, but by using 2 or 3 times as much fuel as they should be, they’re sucking up supply at accelerated rates, and driving up the price for all of us.

Well, well.

Hopefully now we’ll see some return to more creative vehicles and creative marketing strategies. All we’ve seen from Detroit in the past few years is more horsepower, more power, bigger engine, 0-60 times, etc. etc. But take a look at the New Beetle campaigns. Or the Mini marketing.

It’s creative, new, innovative, exciting. And it doesn’t mention horsepower, engine size, speed, or any of the other particulars that American manufacturers seem to find absolutely essential.

Can America turn it around? Can Ford become the #2 automobile manufacturer in the world again? Can GM stave off the current #2, Toyota? I hope so. I’d hate to see it all shift to Asia and Europe.

But it won’t happen without a sea change in American manufacturer’s attitudes. They have to get it, before they’ll get the business.

And so far, they’ve shown few signs of impending cluefullness.