DONNA HARRIS

High gasoline prices have no impact on vehicle sales? We'll see…

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News.Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News.
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"We see no effect of gas prices on consumer behavior," Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., said as the nation's largest auto retailer announced February sales this week.

AutoNation's domestic brand and import brand sales were up substantially from a year ago -- 40 percent for domestic and 35 percent for import brands. Premium luxury brands dipped slightly.

The key, though, is pickup truck sales, which for AutoNation rose 25 percent from a year ago despite rising gasoline prices.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration reported the average price of gasoline in the United States jumped about 8 percent in the last two weeks of February alone to $3.383. The average price of gasoline at the end of February was up about 25 percent from a year ago.

LeaseTrader.com, a company that allows a lessee to get out of a vehicle lease by swapping for another one, says consumers are still affected by high gasoline prices -- it's just a question of how high.

The tipping point? LeaseTrader says people will change their ways if gasoline exceeds $4 a gallon. During the last gasoline price runup in 2008, $3.50 was seen as the tipping point.

It may be premature to say consumers have become dull to rising gasoline prices.

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