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$4 A Gallon Gas: Might Not Be The "Game Changer" Everyone Says

2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid
Source: chevrolet.com
2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid

Here we go again. Oil is spiking higher (over $107 a barrel) and the folks in the auto industry are once again projecting that $4 a gallon gas may be here this summer. It's sparking a new round of discussion about whether this will prompt people to change their driving habits or the type of cars/trucks/SUVs people will buy.

In fact, a new survey by Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association says if gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon as many economists predict, an estimated 65 percent of American car owners say they will dramatically change their driving behavior.

When a friend of mine pointed this out to me, I was not surprised, but also somewhat skeptical. For 3 or 4 years now, there have been numerous surveys where people said, "yes, when gas hits $2.00, $2.50, $3.00 a gallon, I will look to buy a hybrid, or drive less, or switch from my SUV to a crossover utility vehicle." And yet, as we have hit these price points, the amount of change we've seen has been limited.

Are people driving less? Yes. Are people buying fewer pick-up trucks and large SUVs? Yes.

But as prices have moved up, there has yet to be that "shock wave" where truck sales fall off so dramatically that automakers scream in pain. I say it's because we have slowly adjusted to higher gas prices. As they have crept higher, we've incorporated the greater expense and yes, some people have moved into more fuel efficient vehicles.

But automakers still sold more than 2.7 million pick-ups last year, and the top selling vehicle, was, once again, the Ford F-150. In other words, there will still be people, companies, truck lovers buying those big rigs.

Four dollar a gallon gas may be coming, but I'm not sure it's the "tipping point" many are suggesting it will be.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com


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