• Interest in smaller cars increased in January.
  • Buick's Verano topped the list of "Big Movers."
  • Most "Big Movers" were compacts and hybrids.

After several months of increased consumer interest in larger vehicles, small and efficient cars are gaining popularity. That's the latest from AutoTrader.com's New Car Insights Report, which analyzes search activity on the leading automotive marketplace to reveal trends among shoppers searching for new cars.

According to the report, growing consumer interest in small cars was spurred by rising gas prices, which reached a national average of nearly $3.40 per gallon in January. Indeed, compact and hybrid cars accounted for more than half of the report's list of "Big Movers," which details the top 20 vehicles that have shown a significant month-over-month increase in search activity. Additionally, many more consumers in January said their vehicle choice was affected by gas prices than car shoppers in previous months.

"Gas prices have been on the minds of shoppers lately, and our most recent tracking study showed that 54 percent of consumers said their vehicle choice was affected by this issue," said Rick Wainschel, AutoTrader.com's vice president of automotive insights. "With projections of even higher gas prices to come during the heavy driving season over the summer, we will likely see a continuation in this surge of interest occurring for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Buick's new Verano compact sedan topped the list of big movers in January with a 95.7 percent increase in share of consumer interest compared to December 2011. Other vehicles near the top of the list included the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Sonic, each of which recorded an increase of more than 30 percent compared to December.

Among automakers, Toyota claimed the most places on the list, with an impressive four spots going to the brand's vehicles. In addition to the Prius, Toyota models appearing on the big movers list included the recently released Prius V and the popular Corolla compact and Yaris subcompact.

Despite the rapid increase in search activity for compact cars, full-size pickups like the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado still dominate the list of AutoTrader.com's most-viewed new vehicles. But several smaller cars are beginning to appear on the list, including the Ford Focus and Kia Optima - both of which made substantial leaps over their December 2011 rank to record their first appearances among the top 20 most-viewed vehicles.

What it means to you: As more buyers turn their attention to small cars, dealers may be more likely to give deals on large vehicles - and less likely to cut prices on small ones.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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