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Be Honest: Is Fuel Economy A Big Deal?

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Yesterday, our colleagues at Green Car Reports cited a study from AutoPacific that said car shoppers weren't swayed by high gas prices. In fact, 42% of those surveyed said they wouldn't change the kind of vehicle they drive, even if gas hit $10 a gallon. 

Today, Kelley Blue Book released its own data that seems to contradict those findings entirely. Of the shoppers KBB surveyed during the first quarter of 2012, a staggering 66% "have either changed their minds about which vehicle they are considering, or are thinking about vehicles they normally would not have considered, due to rising gas prices". 

How in the Sam Hill are we supposed to reconcile all that data? Let's give it a shot.

Here's what we know:

1. Fuel economy is creeping upward. In fact, new cars sold in the U.S. now average 24 mpg -- an all time high.

2. Fuel efficiency is a major criteria for new-car shoppers. A recent J.D. Power survey put it at the top of most consumer's must-have lists, while the KBB study rated it second, just behind a solid warranty.

3. Combined, those two factors mean that Americans don't have to compromise as much when heading down to their local showrooms. If shoppers want to stick with an SUV, they can do so and still come home with something boasting better fuel economy than their current ride.

In the end, we think the discrepancy is due to the way that each survey posed its questions. AutoPacific's participants didn't say they weren't interested in fuel economy. They said that they wouldn't downsize their rides for the sake of MPGs -- and since we're seeing more fuel-efficient models in almost every category, they might not have to.

Similarly, KBB's respondents said that they're looking at other vehicles, not that they're downsizing. So in theory, a shopper might be looking to replace her outgoing Ford Focus with a more fuel-efficient model of the same size, like a Chevy Volt or possibly a Ford Focus Electric

Of course, all this amounts to a lot of educated guesswork on our part. Anyone want to conduct a large-scale, nationwide survey that asks for specifics? We'd love to get to the heart of the matter.

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Comments (9)
  1. No doubt, it matters how you ask the question, but there may be something more important to consider.

    People are well known for saying one thing in a survey and doing something else at the time of purchase. I would not place too much stock in these surveys.

  2. My current BMW gets about 20 city and 29 highway; I will be looking for something that is at least 25% more efficient when the time comes (next year, probably) to replace it. Hybrids are out for me, but I will definitely look at diesels when the time comes, as well as the new, smaller turbo 4's. NO CVT's though.

  3. save money... at what price ? Certainly not with any compromise in safety and a small "B" size car will not protect the occupants as well as a most anything larger. You won't look real smart for saving 5 or 8 MPG when you are injured in a wreck with a tree.

  4. I get your concern with safety: smaller / lighter cars do indeed fare worse in a collision with a larger / heavier car. HOWEVER: you don't necessarily have to go with a plastic bath tub on wheels. You can go with the same sturdy car you know and love, just outfitted with a smaller / smarter, more efficient engine.

    My blog posts are really boring: they all say, Here is this car, it's cool in these ways, AND its maker is tossing us in the US the guzzliest version(s) with the hugest engines. Brands include such safety champions as Volvos, and such Detroiters as Ford.

    We need to stop meekly accepting what they feed us, and start asking for the sippers they're now selling to our friends all over the rest of the planet.

  5. When your #'er is up it's up no matter if ya in a big car, small car or at home hiding under your bed watching TV :-)
    PS The longer you live the more taxes ya pay ;-)

  6. I think it super important now! Now 5 years ago maybe not, but we all know gas prices will only get worse. I'd love a Tesla or some form of Hybrid... now we just have to make sure we don't get killed in electricity costs. The rich have to stay rich you know ;)

  7. If you want an electric car, why not install solar panels on the roof of the house to help generate the electricity?

  8. No offense, Brian, but I think that's what's called a non sequitur.

  9. If I were an 8 to 5 person driving say 50 miles round trip 5-6 days a week yea probably. But now that I'm retired my 2k6 Nissan Frontier 4x4 NISMO which averages 17-19 MPG with 26k miles on the OD gas can go to $5/gal and I don't care. If I want to get an average of 48-50MPG I'll use my 2012 Harley 1200 Sportster which is now getting an easy 48-50 MPG. Being that I'm in S/W Florida I can pretty much ride it year round :-)

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