Study Claims Car Shoppers Don't Care About Swelling Fuel Prices

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
study claims car shoppers dont care about swelling fuel prices

Average fuel prices in the United States managed to triple between the years of 1999 and and 2012. While we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy relatively low prices at the pump over the last few years, analysts predict the current spike will continue through the summer.

However, a recent study from Kelley Blue Book suggests most new-vehicle buyers don’t give a flip about it, with consumers claiming the price surge won’t influence their vehicle purchasing decisions in the slightest.

The assumption that the cost of gas will stabilize in the fall could play a factor for some, but many respondents say the price per gallon would have to reach $4 before they became rattled enough to consider swapping to a more economical vehicle.

Kelley Blue Book’s Current Events Panel, which conducted the survey, found that more than 20 percent of respondents expect fuel to “move up significantly in the coming year.” But roughly 60 percent of respondents say it’s unlikely that the recent surges will affect the next vehicle they decide to buy. While that bodes well for automakers that are hurriedly pumping more crossovers into their lineups, it doesn’t give them much incentive to improve fuel economy.

“What we see now is more of the sport utility vehicle [and] crossover vehicles are built on car platforms, and they get much better vehicle economy, in fact there isn’t much penalty between a midsize sedan and a compact sport utility,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Autotrader, told Automotive News. “Despite the rise in gas prices, people still want the versatility and practicality of those utility vehicles.”

Let’s use Honda’s Accord and CR-V as an example. In its most efficient form, the crossover manages to average 28 city and 34 highway mpg, while the base sedan manages 30 city and 38 on the highway. While that’s not insignificant, you probably won’t notice huge savings at the pump on a day-to-day basis. While the Accord is more powerful, lighter, and costs a bit less, the crossover recipe has proven it to be the clear winner with consumers. Last month, Honda moved 28,323 CR-Vs and 21,751 Accords in the United States.

However, gas prices have only been increasing by a noticeable margin for a few months. The market could shift if shoppers find themselves saddled with a full year of expensive fuel. Even then, most experts believe it would be difficult to pry most consumers away from CUVs. Analysts from Kelley Blue Book suggest that fuel prices would need to climb more than 35 percent from current levels to affect the industry in a meaningful way. But that could just cause people to buy more economical crossovers, rather than re-adopt cars.

“They haven’t been high for long enough that we would see any change and I think the desirability of crossover vehicles and various utility vehicles outweighs concerns about higher gas costs,” Krebs said.

[Image: Daniel Christensen/ Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on May 29, 2018

    It affected my latest car purchase. Instead of buying A V6 engine in my 2017 Impala I went straight for the 2.5 model which was far more plentiful, optioned the way I liked and had the exterior color I wanted. While real world MPG isn't drastically better it does get 3-4 better in everyday driving than my V6 W-body Impala, is very refined and offers plenty of power for the type of driving I do. Also of note, the EPA highway rating of 30 is 100% bogus for this car. With 3 people in the car going 75 MPH and the A/C blasting I easily exceeded that rating by 3-4 MPG on average and have seen upwards of 38 MPG at lower speeds. So far I am very happy with this decision.

  • Maksym Maksym on May 29, 2018

    Not trying to throw political crap but I still get flashbacks from the last time a Republican was president and $5 regular was a thing. This is why I'm preemptively getting rid of my Sierra relatively soon with a sort of "better be safe than sorry" kind of attitude. If gas stays low, fantastic. It's over 10 years old now and it's time to finally get into something more practical anyway since I'm no longer in construction. I actually like sedans and not too fond of crossovers so I hope to gain a minor advantage buying/selling because pickups are hot right now and sedans are so-called lot poison.

  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
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