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SUV sales surge a bet cheap gas here to stay: AutoNation CEO

AN CEO: Auto industry's 'strategic' move to trucks

An increased American appetite for trucks and SUVs signals a belief that cheap gasoline prices are here to stay, AutoNation Chairman and CEO Mike Jackson said Thursday.

Consumers had been trained over the years that unrest in the Mideast equals pain at the gas pump, Jackson told CNBC's told "Squawk Box. " "Lo and behold, the Middle East is a bigger mess than ever, and gasoline prices are going down."

"So the American people have concluded something has fundamentally changed on the supply side. And we're going to have low gasoline prices for a long time," he continued. "The American people, left to their own desires, really enjoy big, comfortable, luxurious vehicles."

When gas prices were at $3 per gallon, AutoNation, the nation's largest dealer chain, had a sales mix of about 45 percent trucks and SUVs, Jackson said. "We're now at 60 percent trucks in the month of December."

During an appearance on the show earlier this month, Jackson expressed caution, despite record industry sales in 2015. At the time, he had said: "You'll hear a lot of happy talk from everybody else in the industry. I'm saying we're in a new chapter here."

Following a profit and revenue miss on Thursday, Jackson reiterated that AutoNation is retooling for a sales plateau environment.

AutoNation reported that adjusted earnings fell slightly from the year ago-period to 96 cents per share in the fourth quarter. Revenue of $5.34 billion was about 6 percent higher than the same quarter the prior year.

AutoNation CEO on 'challenging' Q4

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