For one thing, Americans are using less gas. Even in the run-up to four dollars, U.S. gasoline demand had been lower than it was last year throughout the early part of 2008. But what's startling is how dramatically it's changed the cars we're buying. The most drastic shift can be seen at the top of the popularity chart.
For twenty-six years in a row, the Ford F-series pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in America. Through April of 2008, the F-series was still on top. But in May, it fell out of the top spot - not to number two, or number three, or four. The F-series had fallen all the way to fifth place.
And the F-series is not alone. The Chevrolet Silverado stayed in lockstep right behind it, dropping from number two to number six. The Dodge Ram fell off the top-ten list altogether; compared with the year-earlier period, Toyota Tundra sales were off by nearly one-third, and the Nissan Titan saw its sales cut by more than half.
To even the most casual observer of the automotive scene, it has long been obvious that, despite the rationalizations of their owners, a great many full-size pickups aren't bought on need, but on want. Suddenly, it appears that a lot fewer people want to tool around in a four-door, 4x4 pickup with an empty bed in the back. For the first time in recent years, cars are outselling trucks. And what's really eye-opening is which cars are hottest of all.
The traditional top-selling cars, mid-size sedans such as the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord, and the Nissan Altima, have enjoyed sales increases (particularly the latter two) but haven't moved up the pop chart. No, it's two small cars that have shot up past their mid-size brethren to trade places with big pickups.
For the first time in its long history, the Honda Civic has become the best-selling car in the United States. The Civic's decades of excellence are suddenly paying off in a big way, as it has become the go-to vehicle for U.S. car buyers looking for a good small car. So sterling is its reputation that used Civics are commanding absurd prices, with one-year-old examples selling for more than the sticker price of new ones. Right behind it is Toyota's Corolla/Matrix (the company reports the sales of the two models as a single figure), which leapfrogged the company's perennially best-selling Camry.