Autolist Study Shows Environmental Concerns Have Little Impact On Car Buying Decisions

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There is theory and then there is reality. In theory, most people today are aware that something is happening to the environment. Whether it is massive wildfires in the West, the crumbling of polar ice caps, the increasing risk of violent storms, or concerns about rising sea levels, the signs are everywhere to be found. All we have to do is look.

Autolist fuel economy survey

Despite such a general awareness of climate change, however, a new study by Autolist finds that when Americans go to a automobile dealer to buy a new car or truck, environmental considerations take a back seat to other considerations such as price, options, and the universal game of keeping up with the Kremplers. Here are the major findings of the study, which polled 1,652 current car shoppers in late August.

  • 65% of current car shoppers believe vehicle emissions and fuel economy have an impact on global warming. 18% of respondents said they didn’t believe there was a correlation; 17% were unsure.
  • Yet just 35% of buyers said the issue of global warming had had an impact on the type, size or powertrain of the vehicle the bought. 54% said it had never impacted their decision, 12% were unsure.
  • Half of consumers believe stricter fuel economy standards will save them money over time.

The responses to questions about fuel economy are interesting. Almost the first question people ask about a new car other than the price is what it gets for gas mileage. The numbers are right there on the window sticker, showing how many miles per gallon a driver can expect to get in city driving, highway driving, and overall.

Earlier this year, another Autolist survey found less than a third of US car buyers say they support the rollback of fuel economy standards supported by the Trump administration. Yet 50% of those polled in August said that stricter fuel economy standards would not save them money over time or weren’t sure. That’s a degree of cognitive dissonance that is unsettling.

CleanTechnica reached out to Autolist for a comment on its latest study. In an e-mail, executive editor Dave Undercoffler told us, “This study is important because it demonstrates the gulf between consumer sentiment and consumer action when it comes to vehicles’ impact on global warming. While a majority of shoppers said they believe emissions and fuel economy are tied to global warming — backing up an earlier study we did last month showing wide support for maintaining current emissions target — people aren’t yet compelled to make this a major purchase consideration.

“Sure, it’s likely that emissions and fuel economy play some role in some purchases (for example a customer looking at a new RAV4 may opt for the RAV4 Hybrid since the price jump isn’t too great and the benefits are obvious). But consumers vote with their wallets and by and large — right now — environmental concerns aren’t an immediate priority.”

In other words, many of us talk the talk but don’t walk the walk when it comes time to purchase a new vehicle. Left to our own devices, we prefer others to take action on climate change and leave us out of it. The Autolist findings are pertinent to much more than new car purchasing decisions. Most of us are remiss in taking responsibility for our own actions. That human foible may end up being the death of us — literally.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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