Updated June 30 at 3:30pm

Demand for fuel efficiency spurs R.I. auto sales

During the first quarter of 2012, earning reports for the “Big Three” American motor companies, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, showed that Americans are standing behind their automobile makers, and the Ocean State followed suit in the country’s rekindled love affair with the iconic, American-made automobile.

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Demand for fuel efficiency spurs R.I. auto sales

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During the first quarter of 2012, earning reports for the “Big Three” American motor companies, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, showed that Americans are standing behind their automobile makers, and the Ocean State followed suit in the country’s rekindled love affair with the iconic, American-made automobile.

All three manufacturers credit increased fuel efficiency and better engineering for the improved national sales.

At Balise Chevrolet in Warwick this year’s first quarter was stronger than last year’s. “I think we did very well. We had a mild winter and I’m sure that helped,” said Michael Flaherty, a sales consultant at the dealership.

Recent GM sales have focused on fuel efficiency. Cars such as the Cruze are the company’s “bread and butter,” he said, offering a fuel efficiency of 42 mpg at an affordable price. The “Eco” model has additional features that can bring the mileage closer to 50 mpg. Another strong model is the Equinox, a small, four-cylinder, fuel-efficient crossover. Truck sales at the dealer have flourished as well.

According to the General Motors Corp., in March the company sold 100,000 cars in the United States that had a fuel efficiency of 30 miles per gallon or better on the highway. That’s never happened before. Demand rose for all of its 12 models that get 30 mpg on the highway, about 45 percent of the company’s U.S. sales, versus 16 percent in 2008. In March alone, GM’s Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid, doubled its February sales.

Flaherty also praised GM for its dedication in improving its quality and striving for more innovative ideas. “Compared to 2008 when they started their restructuring you can really see the difference,” he said. Flaherty said they have tapped into the fuel-efficient market to a greater extent and the new Malibu and Impala models will feature incredible technology and design. The exterior design of the Impala and Corvette will be updated as well.

“We do see the economy getting better. Rhode Island might be lagging behind but it’s getting better,” he said.

Four years ago, the Chrysler Group – owned by Fiat – did not manufacture a model that was more fuel-efficient than 30 mpg, but now it boasts six such vehicles, accounting for 29 percent of the company’s sales in March. Furthermore, the much-anticipated release later this year of the 2013 Dodge Dart, at 40-plus mpg, is waiting in the wings.

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