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Gas and Go

With gas prices on the rise, national SUV sales slip.

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Memphian Megan Harrison recently considered trading in her 2006 Ford Explorer for something a little more economical.

"When I went to the dealership, I was told that the trade-in value on my truck would only be around $12,000 or $13,000. At the time, I owed $22,000," Harrison says. "I was shocked."

Harrison decided to keep the Explorer but is still faced with filling up the gas tank twice a week, at about $70 a pop.

"With my note plus gas, it's like paying for a small apartment each month," she says. "But I can't get out of it. I'm stuck."

Harrison isn't the only one stuck. With oil nearing a staggering $126 a barrel for June — and gas at an average $3.50 a gallon in Memphis — data suggests that the American love affair with sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and large cars may be over.

National SUV sales for April fell more than 32 percent from last year, and small-car sales rose almost 19 percent. Locally, some dealerships claim that Southerners will always want larger vehicles for hunting and fishing, but other dealerships say they've already noticed a change in sales.

Chuck Palmore, vice president and general manager of Chuck Hutton Auto Group in Memphis, says that sales of smaller, fuel-efficient models have increased notably. At the same time, car manufacturers are offering more incentives on larger vehicles.

"We have seen a move away from the less fuel-efficient vehicles and into fuel-efficient cars and smaller SUVs, like the RAV4," says Palmore. "The hybrid models — Camry, Highlander, and Prius — are selling as fast as they come in."

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