Gas prices were his main motive for buying.
"I had a feeling they were going to go up. They were just too good to be true," he said.
For automakers, there's tough competition ahead for small cars. They're trying to make them more profitable by loading them up with pricey features such as leather seats and navigation systems. As a result, prices are rising. Vehicles sold for an average of $30,605 last month, up almost 7 percent from a year earlier, mostly due to more luxurious small cars, according to the TrueCar.com automotive website.
Companies that don't move fast enough in the small-car market will be hurt.
The Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus all gained market share in the compact car segment last month, with some of the sales coming at the expense of Toyota's aging Corolla, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for the LMC Automotive consulting firm. That's a very different story than 2008, when the Corolla was the runaway best-seller in the segment.
The shift to smaller cars is becoming a regular pattern. Buyers also leaned toward smaller cars at the beginning of last year, when gas prices jumped 80 cents between February and May before moderating in the summer. Last March, when gas prices reached $3.74 per gallon, 23 percent of buyers purchased small cars. But they went back into bigger cars once gas prices eased.
Edmunds chief economist Lacey Plache said rising gas prices won't make car buyers hold off on purchases altogether. That's because they're more confident about the jobs market and because cars on U.S. roads are getting so old that they have to be replaced. She says people will simply put more emphasis on fuel economy and cut back on the miles they drive.
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