Dubai: UAE consumers are hunting for fuel-efficient cars as fuel prices increase and budgets tighten, say car manufacturers.
"More and more customers are being careful with their money and are asking about fuel consumption. They're paying more attention to the entire running cost of cars," Axel Dreyer, general manager of Mazda (Galadari Automobiles) told Gulf News.
"There are a lot of people who travel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. If you're driving 120km and saving 30 per cent on fuel consumption you can use that extra money to go for dinner with your wife," he added.
Looking to capitalise on this, Mazda recently announced the introduction of SkyActiv technology into its engines which saves around 30 per cent in fuel consumption.
"This technology will be implemented in all new cars of Mazda and the next new car in the UAE will be the Mazda 6," said Dreyer.
According to Jeremy Weatherill, divisional manager at Al Naboodah, the distributor for Peugeot in the UAE, these inquiries follow similar consumer trends in other major auto markets.
"It started in America where the thirsty 4X4s got a big thumbs down from the American public who started to downsize. We're seeing the Americans downsizing dramatically since people are being more careful with their money and are looking to keep their running costs to a reasonable level," said Weatherill.
"Car manufacturers are having to change their business plans to accommodate this new attitude from the buyers. I always believe that whatever happens in America today happens in the rest of the world tomorrow."
According to Michel Ayat, CEO of Arabian Automobiles, this trend comes with a change in consumer demographics.
"There is no way any manufacturer — or dealer for that matter — to ignore it. In the UAE, at least a third of prospective car buyers are aged between 18 and 29 and they do not believe in the traditional passenger car or the traditional SUV. That's why the crossover models came and why they have found immediate acceptance," Ayat said in a recent interview.
On the back of this growing trend, dealerships such as Arabian Automobiles are achieving a 20 per cent increase in sales year-on-year for its Nissan models and a 40 per cent sales gain with its Renault models.
But SUVs and 4x4s continue to take up the majority of market share, especially with luxury models which cater to high-end individuals. General Motors' three brands, Chevrolet, GMC and Cadillac, have recorded 30 per cent growth across its 4X4 models during the first half of 2011. Ford also had a robust first nine months with its biggest 4x4, the Expedition seeing a 130 per cent increase in sales.
"With Lexus our SUV range is still very strong if you compare 2010 with 2011 even despite the tsunami and earthquake in Japan. Lexus always has had a loyal customer base when it comes to the SUV segment and hasn't seen any dips. Being in the luxury market, issues such as fuel efficiency tend to be less important," said Fatima Tomoum, deputy GM at Al-Futtaim Motors — Lexus. "We're hoping for a year-on-year increase of high single-digit growth for SUV sales at Lexus."