Increased sales of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) has come largely at the expense of cars, despite increases in gasoline prices in recent months. In each month since September 2017, sales of CUVs have exceeded those of cars, a class that includes sedans hatchbacks, and sports cars.

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA), which provided the analysis, says that CUVs typically have ride height and interior space similar to truck-based sport utility vehicles (SUVs). However, they are built on more fuel-efficient, car-based platforms and often have fuel economies that are only slightly lower than comparable cars.

Credit: EIACredit: EIAEIA says that vehicle sales shares for pickups, SUVs, and other vehicle types — which typically have much lower fuel economy than sedans and many CUVs — have remained relatively constant in recent years, with pickup shares showing comparatively modest gains.

Although CUVs and cars are built on similar platforms, CUVs often have slightly lower fuel economy than their comparable sedan counterparts -- for example, the Toyota RAV4 CUV versus the Toyota Camry sedan, even when they are equipped with the same engine and transmission. However, the change in vehicle shares from cars to CUVs had less effect on fuel consumption compared with other historical shifts in sales, such as the shift from cars to SUVs in the 1990s and early 2000s, EIA says.

Cadillac XT5 CUV. Credit: WikipediaCadillac XT5 CUV. Credit: WikipediaThe relatively small variability in annual fuel costs has not been enough to change purchasing trends in the same way that consumers traded in low-fuel-economy SUVs for cars and CUVs in the depth of the recession in 2009. At that time, replacing a 20 mile-per-gallon (mpg) vehicle with a 30-mpg vehicle would save an annual 250 gallons when driven 15,000 miles, at a cost savings ranging from $500 ($2/gallon) to $1,000 ($4/gallon).

CUVs often have fuel economy ratings that are more comparable to cars than to the fuel economy ratings of SUVs or pickups. Also, as fuel economy increases, cost savings from fuel consumption reductions decrease. For example, a consumer who drives 15,000 miles per year using a 35-mpg sedan consumes about 429 gallons of gasoline annually, EIA says. A 30-mpg CUV traveling the same distance would consume 500 gallons, a difference of 71 gallons. That difference would cost $143 to $285 annually with gasoline prices in the range of $2/gallon to $4/gallon.