Gas prices in North Carolina have plunged to their lowest levels since 2016.
In the Lake Norman area, drivers are paying less than $2 a gallon at many pumps.
Statewide, the average price of $2.11 is about 26 cents less than it was in January 2017, according to AAA Carolinas. That translates to a savings of $3 to $4 per full tank for most passenger vehicles.
The $2.32 average nationally also is a two-year low.
Those plunging prices have fueled a virtual reversal in what customers are looking for when buying a new car, said Ben Goins, vice president of operations for the Randy Marion Automotive group of dealerships.
When gas prices peaked at more than $4 a gallon in 2008, consumers responded by demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles. That meant fewer trucks and SUVs, and more smaller models, including hybrids.
A decade later, with gas prices cut in half, the trend has reversed. In 2019, nearly half of new cars sold will be SUVs or crossovers, according to the car-buying site Edmonds.com.
Goins said he expects 60-70 percent of 2019 sales at Randy Marion dealerships to involve trucks, SUVs and crossovers.
“It’s been a real flip,” Goins added.
And as it did when gas prices were high, the auto industry is again responding to the shift in customer demand.
In 2019, automakers plan to kill off more than a dozen models.
Vehicles on the chopping block include the Ford Taurus and Focus; the Chevrolet Impala, Cruze and Volt; the Volkswagen Beetle (again) and Touareg; the Hyundai Azera; the Honda CR-Z; the Toyota Prius V; the Nissan Juke; and the Cadillac CT6, XTS and ATS.
But Goins added that the auto industry’s transformation is the result of more than just gas prices. Tough federal standards – including on trucks and SUVs – have resulted in far more fuel-efficient larger vehicles, he explained.
“The industry really responded (to the standards),” Goins said. “It’s at the point where trucks and SUVs have gotten pretty close (in fuel mileage) to sedans and other smaller vehicles.”
The evolution of the crossover also has been an industry game-changer, Goins noted.
“People prefer a hatchback, and they like to sit a little higher,” he said.
In the meantime, gas prices continue to go lower.
Locally, east of the lake, prices on Jan. 7 ranged from $1.96 at B.J.’s and Sam’s Club on N.C. 150 in Mooresville, to $2.09 at the Harvest Market BP station on N.C. 115 in Huntersville, according to gasbuddy.com, which monitors prices on a daily basis.
West of the lake, Murphy Express and Exxon, on N.C. 73 near N.C. 16, were charging $1.93.
Prices varied along Interstate 77, where stations are clustered:
Exit 23: Cashion’s, $1.99; Shell, $2.02; Pitt Stop and Exxon, $2.05.
Exit 25: (Huntersville) Exxon, $2.07; Shell, $2.08.
Exit 28: Cashion’s and Circle K, $1.99.
Exit 30: Rushco, $2.05.
Exit 31: Shell, $2.06.
Exit 33: Shell, $1.99; Marathon, $2.09.
Exit 36: BJ’s and Sam’s Club, $1.96; Valero, $1.99.
For all of Huntersville and Cornelius, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was $2.03 compared to $1.99 for Davidson and Mooresville. Denver’s average price was $1.94.