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Toronto’s Punjabis get fuel-wise, divorce SUVs

The spiralling crude oil prices seem to have had a casualty on the side – expatriate Punjabi youth, who are finding it a challenge to keep their affairs with large sports utility vehicles going, finds out Gurinder Gill.
By Gurinder Gill | Hindustan Times, Toronto
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2008 11:42 PM IST

The spiralling crude oil prices seem to have had a casualty on the side – expatriate Punjabi youth, who are finding it a challenge to keep their affairs with monstrously large sports utility vehicles (SUVs) going.

Once the top choice of Punjabi youths, these gas guzzlers now sit adorned with “For Sale” signs, admission of an errant past, as their owners scramble to buy small cars and hybrids.

In the US — the world’s largest automobile market — automakers have reported a sharp drop in sales of the hardiest, roomiest — and now reviled as thirstiest — vehicles.

Data published by automobile magazines reveal that sales of large- and mid-sized SUVs were down 42 per cent and 38 per cent respectively in May. US automaker Ford, which recently announced cuts in its truck and SUV production, has offered deep discounts to move inventories off its lots.

Ford's venerable F150 pickup ended its 17-year-run as the best-selling vehicle in North America last month, dethroned by small cars with higher fuel efficiency.

General Motors is reportedly looking to unload its Hummer brand in toto, after its sales fell 60 per cent in May. The civilian version of the US Army favourite was also a favourite among local Punjabi youth, and most of Hummers on Toronto roads belong to them. No longer, as it burns almost twice as much fuel to travel the same distance as an average mid-sized car.

GM has taken the biggest with a 28 per cent drop in sales which has promoted the company to close four truck plants and cut about 10,000 jobs. The sales of Ford Expedition, another popular SUV, are down 31 percent for the first five months of the year, and the Navigator down by 22 per cent, according to Autodata Corp.

Manjit, an auto dealer who has been in the business for more than 20 years, says SUV owners are hit especially hard. The large ones with V-8 engines — like the Hummers,Cadillac Escalade, Ford Expedition ,Navigator and Chevy Suburban — have mileages as low as 12 miles a gallon in the city and are plummeting in value. Manjit says he has not had a single Punjabi customer for an SUV in the last two months — as compared to an average of two dozen a month previously.

“The SUV as a lifestyle choice, as a personal statement, is dead,” says Arbaaz, an industry analyst.

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