Fuel Economy Still Matters Says Consumers Union

I know, I know. SUV’s, crossovers, and pickup trucks are flying off dealer lots in record numbers. Nationwide, average fuel economy is down as people gravitate toward larger, thirstier vehicles in this era of low gas prices. You might think people don’t car that much about gas mileage any more, but you would be wrong.

Fuel economy still matters

According to Consumers Union, the research and policy arm of Consumer Reports, fuel economy is still a big factor in determining  which cars and trucks people buy. That’s why manufacturers strain all their resources to produce pickup trucks that get 1 mile per gallon better mileage then their competitors’ offerings. In the real world, that difference doesn’t amount to much, but it can make the difference between selling a pickup truck or watching customers go down the street to the other guys.

“Consumers want cars that don’t drain their pocketbook — either through costly repairs or guzzling gasoline,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “These findings should be another reminder to automakers that developing more fuel-efficient vehicles is attractive to their customers.”

Almost 84% said increasing fuel efficiency is important. 73% said the federal government should continue to mandate higher fuel economy in cars and trucks. 32% said the fuel economy of their current vehicle could use improvement. 60% would be willing to pay more for a fuel efficient vehicle if costs could be recouped by fuel savings within five years. 80% said making larger vehicles, including SUVs and trucks, more fuel efficient was important. 76% agreed that raising fuel economy to an average of 40 mpg in 2025 is a worthwhile goal.

As interesting as all those statistics might be, the survey also found that good gas mileage correlates with how people fell about their vehicles. According to the survey, auto makers identified as the offering the most fuel efficient vehicles (Honda and Toyota) also topped the list of the “best” vehicles. Similarly, auto makers believed to have the worst fuel economy were among those listed as producing the worst vehicles overall.

Consumers Union also found a strong link between fuel economy and owners who are most satisfied with their vehicles. Fuel economy was second only to reliability in its influence on owner satisfaction. That link was evident among owners of light trucks and SUVs as well. Owners of SUVs, pickup trucks and vans all reported increased owner satisfaction as fuel economy increased.

A corollary to the Consumers Union findings is a report from used car website iSeeCars.com. As reported by Forbes, five of the best selling used cars are plug-in hybrids or electrics — cars known for their excellent fuel economy. While the average used vehicle takes 42 days to sell, according to the website’s data the Prius plug-in hybrid spends the least amount of time on the market at just 19.7 days.

Other high efficiency cars in the top 10 in terms of number of days on the market include the Nissan LEAF at 24.3 days and the Tesla Model S at 26.1 days. The Lexus CT 200h and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid are the other cars with good gas mileage on the list.

It’s interesting that at least 3 of those 5 cars sold poorly when new. The Toyota plug-in hybrid was deemed a failure because of low sales volume. Sales of the Nissan LEAF are off substantially so far this year and the Lexus — a close cousin to the standard Prius — has never sold well. Used car shoppers tend to be more frugal than new car customers. Perhaps that’s why they prefer cars that are light on the wallet when it comes time to put gas in them. Or put no gas in them at all, in the case of the LEAF and Model S.

“For these fastest selling cars, the market may have hit a sweet spot where the pricing of these particular alternative fuel cars has dropped enough to make these cars more desirable,” says Phong Ly, head of iSeeCars.

Source: Tire Business

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.