The American consumer’s love for giant SUVs is cooling off, The Wall Street Journal reported, saying that overall sales of traditional [large, truck-based] models are down 9.8 percent so far this year and 13.6 percent in April, compared with last year.

The magazine said those figures were posted despite improved sales of larger models, such as General Motors‘ giant Chevrolet Tahoe, a favourite for ferrying prominent politicians around Washington.

The WSJ said that petrol prices have virtually doubled in many parts of the U.S. over the past two years and there are signs that the high pump prices are starting to hurt SUV sales.

The latest J.D. Power & Associates survey of consumer attitudes on auto-industry quality cited “excessive fuel consumption” as a problem with 2001 truck models, including SUVs, at more than double the rate for 2000 models, the WSJ said.

The Wall Street Journal also quoted Clotaire Rapaille, a consultant who worked with executives of the former Chrysler Corporation on the retro-look PT Cruiser, as saying that U.S. consumers are also beginning to show signs of ‘traditional SUV fatigue’.

“The main reason people were buying [SUVs] was that they were different,” Dr. Rapaille told the magazine.

But now that vehicles like the Ford Explorer are everywhere, “they are losing one of the reasons people were buying these cars.”

The WSJ also said that SUV resale values have fallen sharply, with the value of a 1999 six-cylinder, four-wheel-drive Explorer dropping by 20 percent to $US17,225, from January 2000 to January 2001 – more than several other top-selling cars and trucks, according to the National Auto Dealers Association Official Used Car Guide.

“This softness in all of the SUV prices started long before the Firestone issue came up,” the association’s chief economist, Paul Taylor told the WSJ.

He added that a large supply of used SUVs coming off leases, bigger new-vehicle rebates and weak demand in a generally slow economy were all contributory factors to the drop in value.

The WSJ said that the three million SUVs sold in the United States last year accounted for about 17.2 percent of the market but a far greater share of Detroit’s profits, with Wall Street analysts estimating that as much as one-third of Ford’s overall profit – about $3,000 a vehicle – now comes from SUVs.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

USA Car and Light Truck Outlook – Segment analysis and forecasts to 2003 (download)

PriceWaterhouseCoopers Global Supplier Report