Three Major Factors Drive Consumers' Choice of Cars

December 10, 2010
Despite all the media attention over hybrids and electrics, when it comes to consumers’ choice of cars – family cars included – it still boils down to three major factors: quality, safety and price. So says Consumer Reports after a recent random, nationwide telephone survey of 1,713 adult car owners in the United States.

It isn’t that consumers aren’t interested in buying green vehicles. According to the Consumer Reports survey, 39 percent are considering the purchase of a hybrid or an electric for their next car. A telling statistic is that 94 percent of those surveyed said green cars still have a ways to go, citing concerns over high purchase price (66 percent), inadequate energy infrastructure (60 percent), and range-anxiety over limited driving range (58 percent).

It’s interesting to note that men favor plug-in hybrids and electrics while women lean more toward regular hybrid cars. In addition to hybrids and electrics, those surveyed said they’d also consider other alternative-fuel vehicles such as flexible-fuel vehicle (35 percent), natural gas or propane (19 percent), and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (19 percent). Diesel-powered vehicles were mentioned by 14 percent, and among those, 57 percent said they’d use biodiesel fuel.

But no matter what car is next in their future, 63 percent said they expected to get significantly better fuel economy.

Greenest Vehicles

As to which vehicles consumers surveyed consider greenest, it’s no surprise that electrified ones win out over petroleum-fueled counterparts. Twenty-five percent said that pure electrics are the greenest, while 17 percent say hydrogen fuel-cell cars are the most environmentally friendly. And another interesting stat is that more men (27 percent) feel that way about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles than women (7 percent). As for plug-ins and traditional hybrids – they tied at 10 percent.

Factors Driving Consumers’ Choice of Cars

Getting down to what really matters in consumers’ choice of cars, the Consumer Reports survey pointed to the following factors, in descending order of importance

  • Quality -- 88 percent
  • Safety -- 86 percent
  • Price -- 86 percent
  • Value -- 82 percent
  • Fuel Economy -- 82 percent
  • Performance -- 79 percent

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

2011 Nissan Leaf prototype

Enlarge Photo
Where did “green” or “environmentally friendly” come in on the list? Of the 12 specific factors Consumer Reports looked at, green came in at spot number 11.

Bottom line: Consumers seem more interested and willing to consider alternative fuel vehicles for their next vehicle purchase, but they still have some very real and practical concerns.

Looks like automakers need to a) lower purchase price, and b) allay range-anxiety fears. As for the inadequate energy infrastructure, that’s already being addressed with respect to increasing the number of electric charging stations for EVs and plug-in hybrids. Still, the infrastructure isn’t where it needs to be yet – and won’t be for several years.

In the meantime, consumers who drive less than 40 to 70 miles round-trip will be happy to see they can go the distance on electric power only in a 2011 Nissan Leaf or 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Or, buy a fuel-efficient four-cylinder-powered car that delivers the performance of a V-6.

[Consumer Reports, via The Auto Channel]

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