Despite Low Gas Prices, MPGs Remain Car Shoppers' #1 Criteria Says J.D. Power

January 16, 2015

If you've been near a gas pump in the past several weeks, you may have felt like Rip van Winkle: disoriented, confused, and wondering if the past several years have all been a dream. That's because the average cost of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline is now $2.08 -- a low that Americans haven't seen in over six years.   

And yet, despite that relatively cheap price, fuel economy remains the most important criteria for shoppers when purchasing a new car. Go figure.

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That bit of news comes from J.D. Power and its 2015 U.S. Avoider Study. To collect data for the study, Power polled 30,000 owners who registered a new vehicle in April and May 2014. Study participants were asked about the reasons that they purchased certain vehicles and avoided others.

Of all the possible factors that shoppers considered when buying their new car, 14 percent cited fuel economy as their top concern -- more than any other criteria on the list. (It was particularly strong among those who purchased compact, small, and midsize cars, as well as compact crossovers.)

What's more, poor fuel economy was cited by 16 percent of respondents as the reason they avoided particular cars. As in previous years, low MPGs weren't as much of a buzz-kill as lousy exterior styling (which caused 30 percent of shoppers to turn their backs), but it was close behind cost and interior design, both of which were rated as top turn-offs by 17 percent of respondents.

Coming in just behind fuel economy was in-car technology: 15 percent of those that Power surveyed said that they'd avoided a vehicle because it lacked the latest automotive tech. One year ago, that number was just four percent.

Why is fuel economy so important when today's pump prices have plummeted? According to Power's Arianne Walker, it's because shoppers understand the constancy of change: "Consumers know that, although gas prices are low today, the cost of fuel will likely increase during the time they own their vehicle. Clearly, consumers are considering the total cost of ownership when selecting their new vehicle."

But it's worth noting that even with shoppers' strong focus on efficiency, they're not exactly clamoring for hybrids and EVs. The reluctance has less to do with fuel economy and more to do with cash -- specifically, the premium sticker prices that come with advanced propulsion technologies. Among folks who bought gas-powered vehicles, 24 percent said that they'd avoided looking at hybrids because of their higher price tag.

Are you in the market for a new vehicle? What's #1 on your list of criteria? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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