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By Mark Rabago

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 21) – The steady increase in fuel prices is forcing local car buyers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to opt for more fuel-efficient vehicles instead of gas-guzzlers, according to the Commonwealth Auto Dealers Association.

However, the high cost of gasoline is not the lone factor influencing customers in their car choices; the high billings of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. are also affecting car-buying habits, according to Commonwealth Auto Dealers Association secretary Doug Brennan.

"The continuing rise in the cost of gasoline and record-breaking Commonwealth Utilities Corp. billings have pushed customers toward more fuel-efficient vehicles," he said, adding that it has become more difficult to sell vehicles with V6 engines and almost impossible to sell a vehicle with a V8 engine.

In a quick review of sales from 2004 through October 2007, Brennan said it is quite evident that the demand for larger engines has fallen off.

Vehicles such as the Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Armada come with optional V8 engines.

Brennan said sales of these vehicles were at 23 units in 2004, 19 units in 2005, and down to nine units in 2006. Year-to-date data (from January to October 2007) shows that only two V8 units have so far been sold Commonwealth-wide.

"That is not to say that all V8 models are undesirable. Sales of Ford and Chevy 15 passenger vans have remained steady. In today's market, a vehicle with an engine that large would be purchased as a business asset," said Brennan.

Shell Marianas raised pump prices last Nov. 16, a mere two weeks after the company increased its fuel prices by 10 cents on Saipan. Shell increased pump prices for regular, premium unleaded, and diesel by 8 cents a gallon.

With the increase, Shell's price for regular self-service gas is now at US$3.769 a gallon, while premium gas is now at US$3.959 a gallon. For full service, Shell's price for regular is now at US$3.899, while premium is at US$4.079.

Mobil Oil Mariana Islands Inc. also increased their retail fuel prices last Nov. 12 by 8 cents. Mobil, however, also decreased their fuel prices by 8 cents four days later. The two companies' prices were the same as of yesterday.

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