Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Belvidere’s mileage misers

Top 10 SUVs: 1. Jeep Patriot 2. Jeep Compass 3. Kia Sportage 4. Hyundai Tucson 5. Saturn Vue

Belvidere’s mileage misers
Report: Patriot, Compass, Caliber among top bargains

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With four kids and two jobs, Rockford’s Theresa Kleindl was looking to trade convenience in space for convenience in her pocketbook. In March, Kleindl swapped a minivan getting about 19 mpg for a smaller 2007 Dodge Caliber SXT from Anderson Dodge in Rockford that is designed to get up to 28 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highways. With gas prices soaring this week to national and local records of more than $3.45 a gallon, Kleindl is feeling pretty good about the decision.

“I definitely don’t miss spending $70 to $80 filling up my gas tank,” Kleindl said. She has already put 4,000 miles on the new Caliber. “I don’t know how much I’ve saved already, but it’s adding up.”

Her choice gets support from Cars.com.The company just released its rankings of the vehicles that deliver the “Best Bang for Your Buck,” and all three of the cars assembled at Chrysler’s assembly plant in Belvidere were standouts.

Using a formula that combined a vehicle’s base sticker price with a calculation of its lifetime fuel cost, the Jeep Patriot and the Jeep Compass were the top two bargains for SUVs in the Cars.com rankings while the Caliber was No. 2 in the midsize listings.

In 2006, when gas prices soared above $3 a gallon, Japan’s Toyota gobbled up market share from Detroit’s Big Three carmakers because General Motors, Ford and the Chrysler Group were too heavily invested in trucks, SUVs and minivans.

For Chrysler, the Caliber was in the marketplace in early 2006, but the Compass was just hitting dealerships, and the Patriot didn’t go into production until December.

This year, with gas prices heading higher than last year, the Chrysler Group is in much better position thanks to the Belvidere-built products. Major automakers will announce May car sales figures June 1.

Dave Lusz, general manager of Anderson Dodge, said he hasn’t noticed buyers specifically gravitating toward the more fuel-efficient vehicles yet.

“But they will if gas prices keep going up, which I hear they will,” Lusz said. “If they hit $4 a gallon, I can see a lot of people getting more interested in the Caliber, the Charger.”

In 2006, Toyota moved past Chrysler as the No. 3 carmaker in the U.S. and this year it will pass Ford as No. 2. Its gains have come in large part because it is perceived to have a more fuel-efficient lineup of automobiles.

But the Cars.com rankings show, when factoring in base sticker price, all carmakers have at least a few models to crow about.

Along with the Patriot, Compass and Caliber, Chrysler had the Dodge Charger at No. 2 in full-size cars and the Dodge Caravan second in the minivan segment.

General Motors had the top full-size car with the Chevrolet Impala, and Ford headed the list in the ultracompetitive pickup truck category with the Ford Ranger.

Toyota headed the compact car list with the Yaris and was second in pickups with the Tacoma. Interestingly, the Prius, a hybrid that usually has a waiting list for buyers, was just No. 6 in midsize cars because its base sticker price of $22,175 was $4,225 more than the next highest price among the top 10 in that category.

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