By on February 5, 2009

According to a study by the Consumer Federation of America (PDF), relatively low gas prices haven’t done much to change consumer trends towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. This revelation comes amid claims that small car demand was artificially inflated by high gas prices and increased truck production from General Motors. The survey asked respondents to rate the importance of gas prices, global warming and US dependence on Middle East oil over the next five years, with 76 percent reporting “great concern” for gas prices and energy independence.

“Despite pump prices averaging less than $2.00, Americans still plan to significantly increase the fuel economy of their cars when they make their next purchase,” concludes CFA Public Affairs Director Jack Gillis. Pointing out that only 1.4 percent of new car models for sale in the US get over 30mpg, the CFA argues that automakers will be hard pressed to woo car shoppers who seem convinced that Gas will reach $3 per gallon before their next purchase. “At least to date, Americans view low gas prices as an aberration,” says Gillis. “Expecting higher gas prices in the future, they are adjusting their driving habits as well as planning to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles. Stronger fuel efficiency standards not only respond to clear consumer expectations but will be critical to the survival of the U.S. auto industry.”

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34 Comments on “Fuel Efficiency Still A Consumer Concern...”

  • avatar

    With the average car loan over 60 months people are not willing to take a chance on gas being under 2$ gallon. My ride gets about 26 on open road and 19 in town. Not great but better than the SUV and trucks. I have another car that gets 42/32 while not a comfortable or powerful car it gets me from A – B OK.

    The stage is set for major gas tax hikes with gas this low. I wonder if there will be hearings about the poor consumer being ripped off when the government is taking 2.50 a gallon in taxes. I bet not.

  • avatar

    I know lots of people who are afraid of gas over $3-4/gallon. It still doesn’t convince them they can get away with a compact/subcompact car….

  • avatar
    Casual Observer

    This survey is completely bunk.

    Giving someone a survey to rank the significance of three factors in purchasing a vehicle can in no way reflect reality. I can sit here today and circle a “10” for each factor, but the reality is that tomorrow when I head out to buy a car, I’m looking at reliability, practicality, and affordability.

    Fuel efficiency tops the lists of people who have enough money to not give a damn about any other factor.

  • avatar

    Consumer behavior had definitely changed. During the summer, people were buying the Accent like it was gold, we sold out our allotment and couldn’t get more. The SUVs were dead inventory. Now, we have 25 Accents collecting dust, and I personally sold 3 Santa Fe’s last week alone.

  • avatar

    Thats easy.

    1) High gas prices have brought us to where we are today and cannot sustain a healthy economy
    2) Global warming is mostly a myth
    3) Consumers aren’t fooled with temporary low gas prices. Believe me when I tell you folks gas WILL go back well over $100/barrell in the none too distant future.
    4) The days of gas swilling SUV’s is largely over and people will still buy trucks that need trucks.
    5) Small cars and hybrids will continue to gain in popularity.

  • avatar

    What people say they will do in a survey is interesting but useless. What they actually do counts. Everybody says they will buy a more efficient car. We bought a Honda Fit in mid 2006 (or tried to) and had to wait till November to get the car. Now, there are multiple Fits in the lot when I drive by.

  • avatar

    Fuel economy has definitely shifted as a priority (it has for me), but it’s not completely off the radar.

    Hybrids are in trouble, but the down economy is going to make people lean towards smaller cars and smaller CUVs, if only because of price.


    Why would they get a sub-compact or compact when they can get a midsize car like a Nissan Sentra or a large car like a Hyundai Sonata (seriously, that’s how they are classified).

    “when I head out to buy a car, I’m looking at reliability, practicality, and affordability.”

    Practicality, like common sense, means whatever someone wants it to mean, but reliability and affordability usually have a strong correlation with fuel efficiency.

  • avatar

    Exactly what most other people are saying. A survey is meaningless here. The truth is that hybrids and small cars sold very well when prices were higher, but hybrid sales and compact sales have fallen as fast as anything or faster in the last few months, along with everything else.

    OTOH, Vehicle Miles Traveled does seem to be continuing its historic decline, even with cheaper gas.

  • avatar

    Back in 1973, people were also very concerned about fuel economy. 10 years down the line? Not so much.

    Same will happen now if fuel prices stay low.

  • avatar

    johnthacker: OTOH, Vehicle Miles Traveled does seem to be continuing its historic decline, even with cheaper gas.

    This is the telling figure. This past Saturday I drove from Harrisburg to Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Auto Show, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike was practically deserted for both trips. I’ve noticed much less traffic on other trips, too.

    no_slushbox: Why would they get a sub-compact or compact when they can get a midsize car like a Nissan Sentra or a large car like a Hyundai Sonata (seriously, that’s how they are classified).

    Exactly…we have an Accord four-cylinder. Yes, gasoline at $4 a gallon wasn’t pleasant, but it didn’t break the bank, either. The Accord (or Fusion, or Sonata, or Camry) still seems like a reasonable blend of efficiency, room, comfort and performance. We aren’t going to swap the Accord for a Fit or Prius.

  • avatar

    I am still afraid of the hybrid’s technology braking down. What is the warranty like on them? I know I extended my travel radius for work because I will turn a profit now $1.70 instead of $4 gas.

  • avatar


    Even at 5 years out the, Prius is one of the most reliable cars out there. Which brings up the question I’d most like to see TTAC answer:

    Is a car about a reliable as the manufacturer wants it to be?

    For example – did Toyota give the OK to buy the 15 year 200,000 mile AC compressors for the Prius for $325? While Chrysler said “Nah, go with the 7 year 100,000 mile ones for the Stratus, they are only $189.”

    I mean if you look at the numbers on a 5 year old Stratus vs. a 5 year old Prius how can a car that’s 10x as complex be 2x as reliable?

    I’d love to know from someone on the inside – what the decisions making process is like.

  • avatar

    I doubt there’s one guy who said, you know what, let’s make shit. It’s a collective decision as each person quietly died inside and stopped caring about anything but the paycheck. That’s a plague that will take out a group faster than anything else. Once that takes hold, even the people who really try just drown more slowly against the tide of mediocrity.

    I imagine working at a domestic for the last 30 years is a bit of a Kafkaesque experience; it’d be enough to dull anyone’s ambition to build good cars.

  • avatar

    2) Global warming is mostly a myth

    Proof? From a respectable, peer-reviewed source?

    Climate change is not a myth. The exact details are not entirely agreed upon, but there’s no climate scientist that disagrees that humanity is having an effect in temperature and weather patterns.

  • avatar

    Sure people might not swap the Suburban for a Fit or Prius, but when it’s their next time to buy, they might look more closely a car like an Accord, Malibu, new Taurus, etc. I don’t think people are going to be buying big SUVs in droves any time soon.

  • avatar


    Worse than the beat-down fools who gave up are the young obnoxious ambitious horse’s asses who got the BS in Engineering and went straight into their MBA to climb the technical leadership ladder ASAP. Those are the folks who actively turn products to crap by trying to maximize the brownness of their nose. THEY choose the POS component that barely squeaks by the performance requirement because it’s cheap and doctor the tests to ensure the data makes it look like it passes. These people are the reason the rest of their department turn into beat-down fools who no longer care. These are the people who succeed at companies run by bean counters.

  • avatar

    Wow, they mean there are still some Americans capable of thinking into the FUTURE??

    (I kid because I love).

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Climate change is not a myth.

    You are right about that. As you are right that there is no (or at least almost no) climate scientist that disagrees that humanity is having an effect in temperature and weather patterns. Indeed, basic physics tells us that, all other things being equal, a big increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (like we have already seen) is going to cause the earth’s temperature to increase.

    But I also agree that global warming is mostly a myth. I include within mythical “global warming” these ideas:
    — that we have 10 years until we reach a tipping point in global warming
    — that global climate models can accurately predict that the earth’s temperature will become significantly higher over the next 100 years
    — that banning incandescent lights, or even the Kyoto Accords, will have any meaningful effect
    — that global warming is threatening polar bears with extinction
    — that reducing carbon emissions can be done easily or without cost if we adopt the right government policies

    These ideas are myths not because they are not true. They might be. But I call them myths because we have no evidence to support them. You can either believe them or not. But they are the stuff of politics, and religion, not the stuff of science.

  • avatar

    @ tesla

    that banning incandescent lights, or even the Kyoto Accords, will have any meaningful effect

    You make a great comment but spoil it with that.

    Replacing incandescent lights with compact fluoros is a massive gain. Further use of LED lighting is the next step.

    Just DON’T WASTE ENERGY is all you have to do to help your country and the planet. It saves money too!

  • avatar

    I have seen a continued interest in fuel efficiency from customers on the lot, but it doesn’t seem to be the driving factor. The overall space, comfort, and price of the vehicle seem to be the big issues.

    One interesting thing I have seen is that customers seem to overwhelmingly flock to the smallest engine availible in many vehicles even when the fuel economy benefit is minor compared to the increased power of the larger engine option (2mpg in the Escape and 1mpg in city only in the Explorer).

  • avatar

    Compact fluorescents give off terrible light. They are cheap to run, but trying to read under one is nearly impossible. And if you break one, they are full of mercury. LEDs are simply not ready for prime time.

    Is the climate changing? Yes, of course it is. The climate on earth has ALWAYS been changing. We’re still coming out of an ice age.

    How much is due to man? Climate scientists who claim they can accurately a system as complex as the earth’s climate, solar radiation, the effect of pollution, etc., are simply blowing smoke up your skirt. They’ve got models, but any claim for their accuracy is simply complete bluster.

  • avatar

    just the smart ones

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Good point, Pete Moran. Not wasting energy is always good.

    It’s hard, though, to make much of a difference. For most Americans, residential lighting is about 1% of the energy they account for. Cut that in half, and it’s hardly going to matter. We should do it, and I replaced the bulbs in my house years ago. But even if everyone does it we will not really notice the difference.

    In Japan, they have long used flourescent lights for most residential lighting. Overall per person energy consumption of Japanese is less than half that of Americans. Even in Japan, though, savings from things like more efficient lighting get lost as more electricity goes to high-tech toilets (Japan’s Toto puts out some real thrones), computers and video games, and large-screen televisions.

    It’s like a guy I know at my local gym. He weighs over 140 kilograms, and a lot of that is fat. He told me that his trainer gave him a good hint — “Park in the parking spot that is farthest away from the gym. The walk into the gym will help you lose weight.” Well-meaning advice, and certainly worth doing, but it has not helped at all. The guy has actually gained weight.

    It’s like stopping smoking. Barack Obama has tried many times, but he still smokes occasionally. And like losing weight. Oprah Winfrey is back on a diet, yet again. Obama and Winfrey are people of very strong will. Doesn’t help.

    So I applaud people who chose to buy the most fuel-efficient cars they can. But I don’t call those who chose less-efficient cars stupid or “sheeple.” There are many reasons why each of us uses the energy we do.

  • avatar

    @ tesla

    In Europe a widely accepted lighting figure is about 17% of household consumption.

    In more Equatorial areas it does drop to a low of around 5.5%.

    In Australia, lighting is around 9%.

    Business consumption is much higher.

    If you drop 9% to ~3% via compact fluoro that’s a very large saving, extremely easily achieved. Incandescent lights have been banned in Australia for more than 3 years now.

    @ Jared

    I agree on the fluoros, but that technology is now much better with the new ballast types.

    LEDs are simply not ready for prime time.

    Our office has LED lighting throughout from these guys about 2 years ago. It’s great, and quite natural to work in. No problems reading or viewing computer screens. (Made in the USA too, I think! Imagine that!)

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Pete Moran, the 1% figure I cited is for per capita energy consumption in the United States. That comes from a study that said all residential energy use was only about 18% of total per capita use, with transportation, manufacturing, and business being more. The bulk of energy use in homes was for space heating (gas and oil), water heating (gas and propane), and appliances (electricity). Lighting was less than 10%.

    But I do not know where I got that study, and cannot find it online now. I did find a 2004 Department of Energy study which put residential energy use at 21%, and lighting at 12%. That would give a higher figure, over 2% instead of 1%.

    Your figures suggest a higher percentage from residential lighting. Has Australia seen overall per capita energy use decrease by a noticeable amount since banning the bulb? I did not see any decrease in my family’s electricity use after we replaced incandescent bulbs with fluorescents. There must have been some, though.

  • avatar

    @ Tesla

    Thanks for the figure clarification.

    Yes, our offices have seen healthy improvements in lighting energy with LED (and before that compact fluorescents). An Australian Office Of Energy Efficiency study on lighting energy comes to a close in the next month or so, but a prelim report suggested good savings nationwide.

    We also pretty tightly test and label appliance efficiency, and rate thermal efficiency as well. Not ever having had to buy an appliance in the USA when I’ve been there, is there something similar there? (We get stickers on applicances with a “star” rating – same for cars).

  • avatar

    The more people want efficient cars, the easier it is for people like me (and many others!) who prefer something with some balls to buy what they want. I was able to buy my brand new Impala SS for 14K. Part of that is obviously because of GM’s woes, but a larger part is the tastes of fellow Americans shifting to efficiency. I just hope the Obama administration doesn’t cave to the greenies and render powerful cars extinct. Just let these niche cars die slowly on their own as people like me surely will, and eventually everyone will be driving neutered/efficient cars. If you let the free market work, eventually there’d be no need for CAFE or a gas tax.

  • avatar

    @ reclusive_in_nature

    You seem to understand the problem. Perhaps when future fuel prices are rocketing up again, you’d be good enough to remind your fellow “powerful car” owners not to run to their Reps begging them for “gas holidays” and other nonsense like War.

    No-one is proposing to stop the production of “powerful cars” dead, just for auto makers to have them be less of the standard mix of models. Maybe the value of the old models might go up? (Excluding GM/Chrysler obviously).

  • avatar

    Human beings tend to fixate on big things from the recent past, so right now there are likely millions of people who expect a return to high oil prices any minute.

    The most likely outcome, if history teaches us anything, would be a dead-cat bounce up to $100 a barrel or so – which would give the Global Warming roosters their final 15 minutes of fame – followed by a return to $30-$50 oil for a long time.

  • avatar

    Yes, tew and jmo, the Prius still is one of the most reliable cars on the planet, bar none. And it is also, paradoxically, THE most complex automobile on the market (obviously excepting the other Toyota/Ford type hybrid drive cars).

    Ergo, it has to be exactly the process you just described. Hmmmm, the “good” part for a bit more money, or the “not-so good” part for less?

    I recall having a Lincoln Towncar which was total drek. It seemed to have a lot of Japanese branded parts (alternator, for example), but the damn alternator failed just as if it were a UAW piece. Lightbulb lit up over my head; Ford probably had them take costs out (i.e. it was deemed to be too much money to buy in the original Japanese spec) and of course, as everyone knows, you get what you pay for. Or less.

  • avatar

    I have to say that any lead-up to $100 per barrel pricing of oil would pretty well kill the goose that lays the golden eggs for the middle-eastern arab, crazy venezuelan dictators and russian oil barons/ex KGB guys.

    If/when it happens, the global economy will totally collapse into a heap. Because it already nearly has.

    We actually already hit peak-oil * (though virtually nobody wants to admit it) and what we are seeing right now, is PARTLY due to the fall-out of the results of that occurring right around October 2007, with the prices peaking in July / August 2008. Followed immediately by almost total collapse of the worldwide economy within six months.

    Can’t be a coincidence, therefore – it surely isn’t a coincidence. It’s just that nobody else is taking the obvious idea that once again (still)

    Two Plus Two Equals Four

    * “who says”? One of the premier experts in the oil field stated it was so, in 2008 as prices were going up. He also indicated that worldwide DEMAND for oil exceeded SUPPLY of oil and that we were busy, as a world, “eating our seed-corn” and using up all reserves put aside for a rainy day just on day-by-day demand. In plain english, the taps were running slower than the drain in the bottom of the tub. People can bitch and whine about the obvious fact that there WAS some manipulation of pricing of oil; but this doesn’t take away from the FACT that we DID reach global peak-oil. Just as it is now well known that the United States reached domestic peak-oil in about 1969. Followed by massive increases in oil imports, followed by the Arabs turning off the taps in 1973 due to yet another war against the Jews, during which we supported our friends (Israel) instead of our obvious enemies (as we have obviously seen ever since).

  • avatar

    Jared :
    February 5th, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Compact fluorescents give off terrible light.

    No they don’t. The only reason you think they do, is because you are used to incadescent light. It’s a matter of adjustment, just like when you go out from a dark room into a sunny summer day. I’m sure in the 19th century there were plenty of people moaning how electric lights hurt the eyes and how candlelight was superior.

    My house has been stacked with almost only CFLs for the past 10 years or so. As a result I prefer – strongly – fluorescent light. I now think incadescents are weak and get annoyed by the yellowish ligt they give out, as opposed to the strongly white of the CFLs. Matter of habit.

    They are cheap to run, but trying to read under one is nearly impossible.

    I read under them just fine.

    Climate scientists who claim they can accurately a system as complex as the earth’s climate, solar radiation, the effect of pollution, etc., are simply blowing smoke up your skirt. They’ve got models, but any claim for their accuracy is simply complete bluster.

    I’m suprised how often people with zero or near-zero knowledge of climate science take up onto themselves to judge the work of people who spend their entire careers in the field. How do YOU know? Have you seen their models? Their math? Their racks of super-computers? I mean the exact same arguments are used by the moon-hoax people and have been used to discredit science which looked too complicated at first sight. “It just can’t be done” – I’m sure a lot of people said that about a “horseless carriage” too. Or airplanes. Or space flight. Or vaccines. Or Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the construction of atomic reactors. And so on…

    People have a hard time accepting things that go against their feeling of “common sense”, especially if it’s bad news for them.

  • avatar

    I buy efficient vehicles b/c I keep them a long time. No way am I going to buy a 17 mpg vehicle as a daily driver and worry if gas is going to spike again. I know for certain that gasoline will be significantly higher in ten years than it is now.

    My current daily drivers are 12 and 10 years old. Let’s just say that my financial choices are very conservative expecting a rainy day around every corner.

    FWIW I also have a ~20 mpg VW camper from the 70’s in case I want to burn a copious (relative to my 25 mpg fwd VW) amount of fuel… VBG!

    Folks buying low mileage vehicles either have very short attention spans or just didn’t worry about what $4 per gallon gas was doing to their budget (small part of their budget).

  • avatar

    A few years ago I changed out most of the light bulbs in my house to compact fluorescents. Not the reading lights but every light I could get to. In closets, the garage, nightlights, ceiling fans and backgound lights.

    At the time my pay one price year round electric bill was $150 a month. It gradually started going down and a year ago was $75 a month. It has now gone up to $100 a month after I had a new A/C installed presumably because I use the new one more.

    In just one year I have saved $600 for these simple changes.

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