Katrina may put to an end era of SUVs in US

They're big, they're brutal, they're comfortable - and as far as US environmentalists are concerned, they're public enemy number one on the roads.

The gas-guzzling SUVs, or sports utility vehicles, saved Detroit's automotive industry from being wiped out in the 1990s as Japanese rivals took over the market for smaller cars.

Now Ford and General Motors are both reporting a slump in SUV sales for September.

Sales are down 50% compared with the same month last year, as consumers look for transport that offers more miles to the gallon.

Soaring gasoline prices in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are being blamed for the dramatic decline, with some analysts predicting that America's love affair with the bulky vehicles has now reached a turning point.

"Could Katrina kill the SUV?" is the question being asked in some quarters.

However, this is not the first time that the end of the SUV has been predicted - and on previous occasions, the reports of its death have proved to be greatly exaggerated, reports BBC.

According to Bloomberg, Ford, the second largest U.S. automaker, said last month it plans a 10-fold increase in hybrid-electric vehicles to 250,000 annually by the end of the decade. Toyota, Asia's biggest automaker, said it plans to make as many as 400,000 hybrid cars and SUVs next year. GM and DaimlerChrysler have said they will jointly develop models for 2007.

Hybrids save fuel by combining an electric motor running off a battery with a smaller gasoline engine. Chrysler and other automakers are also cutting gas mileage with more efficient engines such as the 5.7-liter Hemi, which shuts off half of its eight cylinders at highway speeds.

Chrysler is in the midst of introducing 25 new models from last year through 2006. The company is trying to increase U.S. market share after ending five years of declines in 2004. The Caliber, Patriot and Compass will share an assembly line in Belvidere, Illinois. The Nitro will be built in Toledo, Ohio, alongside the Liberty, CSM Worldwide Inc. analyst Michael Robinet said.

Rising gasoline prices have cut consumers' loyalty to large SUVs by 14 percent in the last year and trimmed the likelihood a buyer would stick with a large car by 18 percent, according to a survey by R.L. Polk & Co. conducted in July.


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