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High Gas Prices and What We Drive

Wednesday, 23 May 2007 | 11:23 AM ET
Chicago Gas Prices
AP
Chicago Gas Prices

As I filled up this morning outside Chicago, the price for a gallon of gas was $3.65 -- among the highest prices in the country.

You'd think that would send people running to auto dealers to trade in their 8-cylinder car for a fuel-efficient four-banger. Well, that hasn't exactly happened. Yes, there is a shift in the market toward smaller cars, and more fuel-efficient crossover utility vehicles are gaining popularity with people who want capability, without the low gas mileage you get from a heavier truck based SUV. But, at least for now, there hasn't been a mass exodus from 8-cylinder power.

Why?

Because horsepower is still king.

Almost all the research in Detroit shows the same thing: when car buyers have a choice between horsepower and fuel efficiency, they -- for the most part -- will pick horsepower. Americans grew up loving the feeling horsepower gives them. If they can afford it, they will buy the more powerful engine -- even if that means lower or even poor mileage.

I don't expect that to change, unless gas spikes considerably higher and there is a belief it will stay high. As long as people think the latest rise in gas prices will eventually fade, they will grumble about paying more at the pump, but most will stay with their big car.

Explains why I saw plenty of muscle cars being filled up this morning.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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