Call it a case of bad gas, bad gas prices, or both. It’s a familiar story: Any time fuel prices approach near record levels, American consumers tend to drive less and start serious discussions about buying smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. So says a recent survey by Consumer Reports.
According to the survey, 37 percent of those responding said their leading consideration when shopping for their next car will be fuel economy. A distant second was quality (17 percent) followed by safety (16 percent), value (14 percent) and performance (6 percent).
“These results make it clear that high fuel prices are continuing to impact driver behavior and influencing future purchase considerations,” said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy auto editor. ”While quality, safety and value are still important, this may be foreshadowing a market shift by folks seeking relief at the pump.”
Similar consumer behavior existed the last time gasoline prices rose higher than $4.00 a gallon. However, when gas prices dropped, larger vehicles regained their popularity.
As for the issue of gas mileage, some two-thirds of owners surveyed expected their next vehicle to get better fuel mileage than the one they’re currently driving. While gasoline costs were the primary reason cited for wanting a more fuel-efficient vehicle, over half of respondents cited other reasons, including a desire to be more environmentally friendly (62 percent) and a concern about dependence on foreign oil (56 percent).
For more information regarding Consumer Reports’ fuel economy survey, visit its Guide to fuel economy.
The survey also reported that owners were open to different ways of saving at the pump, from downsizing to looking at hybrids, electric cars, or models with diesel engines. Significantly, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of participants said they would consider some type of alternatively fueled vehicle, with flex-fuel, which can run on E85 ethanol (methanol, or M85, once very popular in California, was not mentioned in the survey) and hybrid models at the top of the list. Not surprisingly, younger buyers were more likely to consider an alternative fuel or electric vehicle than drivers over the age of 55.
Of note, owners of large SUVs (once extremely popular) were the most open to downsizing, frequently planning to move to a smaller SUV. Small cars were the leading category targeted by survey respondents for their next vehicle, followed by larger sedans and mid-sized SUVs. Further illuminating a future market shift, larger sedans (18 percent) and minivans (7 percent) are on fewer participants’ radar relative to their current model.
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted the random, nationwide telephone survey in two waves, April 5-7 and April 12-15, 2012, contacting 2,009 adults. The Center interviewed 1,702 adults in households that had at least one car.
A writer, producer and director, Meyers is editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.