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Is the SUV Era Really Finished?

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A few months ago, the media were full of stories about Americans swearing off gas-guzzlers forever more. But as gas prices receded during the summer (though Hurricane Ike has pushed them back up for now), some of those vows fell by the wayside. According to a new Kelley Blue Book report, based on August polling of new-vehicle shoppers, automakers' financing and incentive offers combined with lower gas prices to create "a resurgence in interest for large vehicles," including SUVs and pickup trucks.

But it's not as if the effects of pump-price shock have disappeared. Six respondents in 10 said they're considering a more fuel-efficient vehicle, with significant numbers "definitely interested" in hybrids (39 percent), hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (36 percent), plug-in hybrids (25 percent) and battery-electric vehicles (25 percent). With the prospect of saving money on gas, shoppers said they'd be willing to spend an average premium of $2,052 for an "environmentally friendly vehicle."

The report concludes that while automakers can buy time for themselves with incentives on their gas-guzzlers, getting those vehicles off the lot, "residual angst" about gas prices means consumers will be more interested in fuel-efficient vehicles than in the past.