One year after Hurricane Katrina left a high-price mark of $3-plus per gallon of gasoline, Americans are finally getting serious about switching to smaller cars and alternative fuel vehicles. The best indicator of current interest, it seems, is the change in behavior on automotive Web sites, where searches and requests for small cars and hybrids are surging.
In the second quarter of 2006, online requests for information on Toyota Tundra and Chevy Silverado trucks fell 43% year-over-year, despite incentives, according to Autobytel and reported by Internet Retailer. Requests also fell 50% for the Dodge Ram; 38% for the Honda Ridgeline; 52% for the Nissan Titan; and 34% for the Ford F-150.
At the same time, consumers were checking out smaller cars and hybrids. In the second quarter, Autobytel found that requests for the Toyota Echo/Yaris rose 835% and they increase by 110% for the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Consumers are also turning to the Web to find gas stations with the lowest prices in their area. The top search term in March that included the word "gas" was – surprise – "gas prices," according to comScore Media Metrix data from March 2006 and reported by (iMediaConnection).
Other popular search terms included "gas," "cheap gas" and "gas buddy," the name of a Web site devoted to locating lower gas prices. In April, comScore noted that visitor numbers more than tripled to GasBuddy.com, from 755,000 to 2.3 million visitors. And Fueleconomy.gov, operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, saw an increase of 172% from March to April.
According to the comScore data, those visiting gas buddy sites in March 2006, tended to be over 35 and have annual incomes of $75,000 and above.