Gas prices drive truck demand

LIHUE — Ryan Mackey doesn’t know anyone in his family who owns a car.

“My cousins and uncles and aunts, and even my parents drive (trucks or SUVs),” said Mackey, Kuhio Motors general manager. “We’re an outdoors enthusiast family, so it appeals to us. That’s what we need.”

Through the first half of the year, the light truck market — pickups, SUVs and vans — made up 73.4 percent of the new vehicle sales market on the Garden Isle, according to data from Hawaii Auto Outlook. That’s up from 68.3 percent the same time last year.

For the state, the light truck category also made up the majority of the vehicle market at about 60 percent. The market is up by more than 10 percent from 2012.

Officials with the Hawaii Dealers Association predict the trend to move even higher if gas prices stay at affordable prices.

“Given the fact that gas prices were remaining low and interest rates were so low and attractive, there was a shift — even more so than normal — in the truck category,” said David Rolf, HADA executive director. “Customers are finding an awful lot in the great values in the dealerships right now.”

The average price per gallon of regular gas in the state this year hovers around $2.80 as of Sept. 23, according to AAA Gas Prices. The same time last year, regular gas per gallon was 10 cents higher.

As low as gas prices are in Hawaii, they are still below the national average of $2.21 per gallon of regular gas.

“People who were on the sidelines because of the gas prices and the fact that the vehicles weren’t getting very good fuel economy before, now they’re jumping in and getting one when they were sticking it out with the sedans,” Mackey said.

Rolf said historically, Kauai has always been more of truck market than a car market because of the outdoor lifestyle.

“People here in Hawaii, especially Kauai, are outdoors enthusiasts and the truck market tends to appeal to those people — whether it’s people taking their family to the beach of hiking or kayaking or canoeing, fishing or surfing,” Mackey said.

Safety also plays a factor in truck sales.

“There are some head-on collisions that happen,” Mackey said. “I want them in a vehicle that sits a little higher. I’m putting my family in an SUV or truck.”

An increase in construction work on the island also contributes to higher truck sales, Mackey said.

Resorts such as Hokuala, Koloa Landing, Coconut Plantation and Hanalei plantation are slated to create several hundred combined units in the near future, according to a report from the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii.

“I think that construction does play a role in the increase,” Mackey said. “Over the last year, we saw a slight uptick in commercial business, and those people are buying trucks, SUVs and vans.”

Top-selling brands on the Garden Isle include Toyota (32.6 percent), Honda (13.7 percent), Ford (12.2 percent) and Nissan (8.8 percent).

As far as the overall market value, Kauai was the lone market that had a double- digit uptick in sales, up 10.2 percent from last year.

The next closest was the Big Island, up 8.1 percent from last year.

Rolf said there are other attributes unique to trucks that also attract customers.

“They can pull and tow, take extra passengers,” and they have beds for other needs, Rolf said.

SUVs and pickups can also travel where most sedans can’t, Mackey said.

“We have friends and family that we have who live on dirt roads, and we occasionally drive on the sand,” he said.

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