Although 2008’s skyrocketing fuel prices began fading from the American psyche in 2009, consumers apparently weren’t ready to resume profligate energy consumption, a Ward’s survey of ’09 model-year light-vehicle production by engine size and type shows.

With gasoline prices hovering just over $2.00 per gallon through much of the year, the installation rate for V-6 and V-8 engines fell to 57.1%, from 63.9% in ’08, continuing a 5-year decline from a peak this decade of 76.2% in ’04.

Related document: Domestic Light-Vehicle Production Summary by Engine

Economic woes, mounting home foreclosures and a dearth of consumer financing sidelined a large number of potential new-car buyers, resulting in just 7,943,327 new light-vehicles built for the U.S. market in model year ’09, the lowest level in more than 20 years and 39.4% less than the 13,117,992 manufactured in 2008.

Related document: Domestic Light-Vehicle Production by Engine Displacement

A 42.2% drop in production of light-trucks, where V-6s and V-8s still accounted for 84% of ’09 output compared with 88.2% in ’08, was a big factor in declining applications of the engines.

While V-8 usage showed only a modest decline in the light-truck segment, slipping to 40.0% from 40.7% in ’08, it dwindled to an all-time low of 4.9% in cars, a far cry from the glory days of the late 1960s, when V-8s powered 88.9% of the cars built in the ’69 model run.

The once lowly 4-cyl. increased its car-market dominance to 61.9% of ’09 production, from prior-year’s 51.7% , while it rose to a record light-truck share of 14.8%.

Building more engines with fewer cylinders increased the share of powerplants with less than 3.0L displacement to 43.1% of ’09 light-vehicle output, according to a Ward’s survey, up from 36.5% of ’08, 32.6% of ’07 and a 10-year average of 29.6%.

Still, the usage rate for the smallest engines, those with displacements of less than 2.0L, fell to 7.1% from 8.2% in ’08, while those in the 2.0L-2.9L category climbed to a second consecutive record of 36.0% in ’09 from prior-year’s 28.3%.

Engines with displacements of 3.0L-3.9L exhibited the largest ’09 decline, dropping four percentage points to a 29.0% share of light-vehicle output from 33.0% in ’08. This compared with a 0.4-point dip, to 11.3%, for engines in the 4.0L-4.9L group and a 2.2-point decline, to 16.6%, for those 5.0L or larger in size.

At the same time, a Ward’s survey of ’09-model U.S.-market import and domestic light-vehicles showed the installation rates of most “specialty” engines held steady or increased, despite an overall market decline.

The turbodiesel engine gained both share and volume in ’09 thanks to the reintroduction of the powerplant in the Mexico-built Jetta.

Oil-burners accounted for 3.7% share on volume of 380,325 in ’09, compared with 2.1% on volume of 338,541 in ’08.

Turbocharged gasoline engines also edged up in share, but not in volume, to 2.9% in ’09 from 2.3%, while supercharged engines held on to a 0.1% rate despite a volume decline of 27.6%.

Hybrid powerplants accounted for a record 2.4% of import/domestic volume in ’09, up from 2.1% in ’08, although unit-volume was down 34.9%.

Also gaining share were flex-fuel engines, even in the face of a diminishing price differential between regular gasoline and ethanol in many parts of the country.

Those engines, which garnered extra fuel-economy credit for the auto makers, accounted for a 7.9% share of the market, up from 7.4% in 2008, although volume was down 33.6%.

abinder@wardsauto.com