By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
As fuel prices sail toward the stratosphere, customers on the ground are starting to go to great lengths to compensate for their departure, including mothballing their four-wheeled workhorses for motorcycles and scooters.
Power sports dealers who have always marketed their bikes as recreational vehicles are now providing basic transportation to people who have never been on motorcycles before, as car dealers scramble for smaller models to offer.
Early this week, Internet sales director Loyd Tullis of Killeen Power Sports said, "I see three scooters on the floor right now, and I'd be surprised if they were still there at closing time. We can't keep our smaller scooters and cycles in stock, 250 to 600 cubic centimeter models, and the manufacturers are out."
He said the bigger road bikes haven't shown much of an increase.
"We're sold out of the smaller models for this year until the new ones come out in the fall," he said, "but we're still able to get some through dealer networks."
Some other parts of the country, particularly the areas hard hit by flooding, are suffering from depressed markets.
Killeen Power Sports, owned by Jim and Linda Foster, holds the local franchise for Honda and Suzuki motorcycles and deals in Polaris all-terrain vehicles.
Drew Bierds, general manager of Horny Toad Harley-Davidson in Temple, said sales of all sizes of bikes are up, although sportsters were out of stock for a while. Horny Toad and Fort Hood Harley-Davidson of Killeen are both owned by Willy and Donna Sullivan.
"The bigger bikes get 40 or 45 miles to the gallon, and they're more comfortable for longer commutes like Temple to Killeen, and there's a lot of commuting," Bierds said. "Supply and demand have definitely changed. Harley is doing everything possible to keep dealers supplied, but they're having a tough time with it. Who knows if this will help bring the price of gasoline down, but people certainly feel better filling up their tank for $20, and some are seeing how much fun riding a motorcycle can be for the first time."
Since the state of Texas requires a safety course for all motorcycle riders, companies who offer them are also booming. Fort Hood offers one, but outside the gate, Totalrider.com of Austin is offering courses at all locations seven days a week, up from its usual three. The course involves hands-on work at one of the company's three locations, in north Austin, Hutto or Killeen.
Owner John Elliott said he sees no immediate end to that level of demand. The company's phone number is (512) 431-3828.
On the four-wheel side of the road, Bill Kliewer of Patriot Pontiac-GMC-Buick said he has a friend in Amarillo who just bought a 2008 Hummer with 12,000 miles for $21,000. It was $46,000 new.
"Sales of the bigger vehicles are definitely down," he said. "We've seen some trade-ins upside down," meaning big-car trade-ins had negative value. "The Pontiac G5 and G6 are holding up pretty well, but we're looking forward to them coming out with an even smaller model in the fall.
"Everybody's trying to shift to smaller cars in used-car inventories. To this point, enough are available, but dealers are out there bidding on them all the time, so the price stays up."
He said he doesn't think gasoline will stay as high as it is. "It's not going down to $2 a gallon again, but people will get used to it being higher than it's been in the past, and sales of bigger vehicles will come back. There are too many people who like full-size cars and SUVs for their roominess and safety and the visibility they afford. They'll return to them."
Nationwide, Bloomberg.com said Chrysler's projected sales were about 20 percent lower than at the first of the year and that other automakers' truck sales were particularly suffering. The agency said Ford Expedition sales were down 31 percent in the first five months of the year. Toyota Tundra sales dropped 32 percent.
It said General Motors will start building test fleets of electric-powered Chevrolet Volts that can recharge at a wall outlet next year. A Norwegian company named Think Global plans to start marketing tiny electric cars here in 2009.
The Wall Street Journal said the volume of vehicles on the road started decreasing in November.
The National Automobile Dealers Association quoted the Detroit News as saying GM has put off plans to re-engineer a new generation of full-size pickups and SUVs indefinitely, preferring to improve on current models and factor in new federal fuel economy mandates. It quoted the Wall Street Journal as saying sales of the Camry and Prius hybrid will probably offset losses on trucks and SUVs.
In line with the spirit of the shrinking gallon, NADA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are joining to honor dealerships that reduce their energy use by 10 percent with certificates, news releases to the dealerships' local media, articles on www.nada.org and recognition during NADA's national conference in September.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.