By Karl Henkel
Rising gas prices may be burdensome to drivers across America.
But some are benefiting from near $4-a-gallon gas. One example: General Motors Co.’s Lordstown Complex.
In an awkward twist, the local auto plant isn’t cheering for high fuel prices but acknowledges they translate into good business.
GM sold 20,427 Cruzes in February, 10 percent more than in February 2011.
“We’re not doing a dance here hoping that gas prices go up,” said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1714. “If they go up and sales go up, I guess that helps. But nobody wants gas prices to go up.”
Between last March and last April, the average price for a gallon of gas jumped about 30 cents to about $3.80 a gallon.
Last March, GM sold 18,018 Cruzes.
In April, during the gas-price spike, it sold 25,160 Cruzes, which still stands as the one-month high.
Gas prices remained about $3.50 per gallon through the remainder of the summer, according to historical prices from GasBuddy.
The Cruze sales trend followed suit.
GM registered 21,000 or more Cruze sales in May, June, July and August.
“There’s a lot of cars that get good gas mileage,” said Doug Sweeney, owner of Sweeney Chevrolet in Boardman. “The Cruze is competing well. It’s selling way out of traditional GM stronghold sales markets.”
Sales of the Lordstown-built vehicle tapered off late in 2011, even to the point where GM forced Lordstown to take a one-week hiatus for an inventory adjustment.
But with gas prices climbing to record highs for this time of year, sales are also trending farther north.
“In general, gas prices are the driving force,” said Kristen Andersson, auto analyst at TrueCar.com. “When gas prices spike, we see consumers buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.”
The Cruze gets anywhere from 25 miles per gallon in the city to 42 mpg on the highway, depending on the model.
Though it’s not exactly fair to try and equate sales on a month-to-month basis based on seasonal trends — the early part of the year is usually the slowest time for auto sales — auto analysts still say gas prices have given the Cruze a bump it may not have otherwise experienced thanks to more cost-conscious drivers, particularly those in Generation Y.
“Small cars are now the fashionable and the smart choice,” Andersson said. “Once they make that purchase of the small vehicle, gas prices don’t really affect them.”
Overall, GM sales rose about 1 percent compared with February 2011.
Chrysler Group LLC reported a sales increase of 40 percent compared with last February and attributed its growth to its fleet of fuel- efficient vehicles.
The Detroit-based automaker says it has 13 vehicles with an Environmental Protection Agency-rated highway fuel economy of 25 mpg or more.
Volkswagen was the big winner last month; it posted a 40.5 percent sales increase.
Hyundai sales were up 17.4 percent in February; Nissan experienced 15.5 percent sales growth.
Ford sales rose 14 percent, while Toyota and Honda sales were up 7.9 and 7.8 percent, respectively.
February had 25 selling days, one more than last February.