GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Soldiers are buying fewer sport utility vehicles and more small cars and "crossover" vehicles, according to Army and Air Force Exchange Service car salesmen.

Chris Law and Pete Thorneywork, new-car salesmen with the Grafenwöhr Exchange, said Tuesday that they are selling fewer SUVs these days. Law estimated he’s selling about 30 percent fewer SUVs than he did a few years ago.

"People are buying small cars like the Ford Focus or Fusion — a lot of the fuel-efficient cars that get about 30 miles per gallon on average," he said.

Soldiers’ move toward fuel-efficient vehicles is hardly a surprise, with Americans paying an average of $3.79 for a gallon of regular gas, according to a survey by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

"We’re looking at $4 a gallon [for regular nationwide] once we get past Memorial Day and into June, given the oil prices we’re seeing today," said Geoff Sundstrom, a AAA fuel-price analyst.

Law said he expects gas prices to stay high and the trend toward fuel-efficient vehicles to continue.

The top seller at Grafenwöhr is the $18,000 Ford Focus, which gets 35 miles per gallon on a four-cylinder 140-horse power engine, he said.

"A few years ago, we were talking 25 miles per gallon. Back then, SUVs — big SUVs such as Ford Explorers, Dodge Durangos and Jeep Cherokees — were the top sellers," he said.

Despite the high cost of gas, Sgt. Robert Spencer, 36, of Chicago was at Grafenwöhr checking out new SUVs on Tuesday.

"I’m looking for fuel efficiency, but on the other hand, I want a truck," he said. "I’ve got a Ford Explorer that I bought used and it is a gas guzzler. I’ve rented standard sized-vehicles, but I love the truck. With the space, I can move military gear or other soldiers that won’t fit in a normal car."

High gas prices will hit you in the pocket no matter what you drive, Spencer said.

"With prices where they are right now, I’ve had to re-budget. I’ve cut some things to put money into my gas budget," he said.

The SUV that Spencer has his eyes on is the Ford Escape, which is large enough but quite fuel-efficient at 27 miles per gallon, he said.

The most fuel-efficient trucks available are hybrid vehicles sold by several major manufacturers in the U.S. But the only one sold by AAFES, a hybrid version the Ford Escape, is not available for delivery to Europe, Law said.

"They don’t have the means to fix it right now [in Europe] if anything was to go wrong. If you sell a car and it takes eight weeks for a replacement motor to come, that’s unacceptable," he said.

Many soldiers who might have bought an SUV in the past are preferring "crossover" vehicles, Law said.

Cross-overs, which include the Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Taurus X and Dodge Journey, are seven-seat vehicles with a lower wheelbase and better fuel efficiency — 25 to 28 miles per gallon — than SUVs, he said.

One class of vehicle that high fuel prices have not affected is the muscle car, Law said.

"Guys still want cars that go a billion miles an hour. V6 cars still sell well. It is just the SUV sales that are slowing," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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