Be Honest: Is Fuel Economy A Big Deal?

April 19, 2012

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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