With $4 a Gallon Gasoline, Consumers Continue to Demand More MPG

Evidence from new polls, April sales figures and May used cars prices demonstrate that American drivers, fed up with high gas prices, continue to demand fuel-efficient cars. Data from Consumer Federation of America, Kelly Blue Book, Autotrader.com, Hybridcars.om, Ward’s Auto, the National Auto Dealers Association, all confirm that fuel efficiency remains the hottest attribute shoppers are looking for in new and used cars.

New Surveys Show Strong Support for Stronger Standards

Just this week, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released its poll of 2,000 Americans, showing that nearly two-thirds support a federal mandate requiring automakers to meet a 60-mpg standard by 2025—a proposal on President Obama’s desk.  (The same percentage says that state governments should continue pushing forward on vehicle emissions standards.)  In fact, according to CFA, concern about fuel prices is the highest it’s been in a decade. 

Data from Kelly Blue Book, the car shopping website, backs up these findings.  According to their latest Market Intelligence survey, the 84 percent car shoppers said that gas prices have influenced vehicle considerations, an increase of 12 percentage points from January to April.  In addition, 90 percent of the survey respondents said they expect gas prices to rise more in the next 30 days.

This is not just a nice thing to say in a survey. These demands for change are showing up in very real consumer behavior.  It’s a matter of survival for the average household, which expects to spend more than $3,000 on gasoline this year.

AutoTrader.com, another popular car-shopping website, keeps tabs on which vehicles are most frequently searched by consumers—as an indication what they will soon buy.  In its May It sees that trucks and SUVs continue to lose their ranking in the list of most-searched new vehicles.  Meanwhile, fuel-efficient cars are holding their position, with a number of new high-mpg cars—such as the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevy Cruze—gaining ground in AutoTrader searches.

April Sales Figures

Hybrid cars continue to be a hot ticket, despite sales of gas-electrics suffering due to supply constraints caused by Japan earthquake.  According to Hybridcars.com’s April dashboard, the number of hybrid sales is beating the market average for the year—up 25.6 percent for the first four months of 2011, compared to the overall market, which climbed 20 percent, compared to the same period last year.

And the lack of hybrids in dealerships is not stopping consumers from seeking greater efficiency wherever they can find it. Based on sales data from Ward’s Auto compared to same month last year, sales of high-mpg clean diesels were up 42.2 percent; small cars were up 29.2 percent; small crossovers were up 31.7 percent; and very small cars were up a whopping 62.4 percent.

Used Car Prices: High MPG cars are winners, gas guzzlers are loser

Car buyers are even switching from the new car showroom to the used car lot in order to get relief at the pump.  That shows up in the rising value of fuel-efficient used cars for May, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association monthly Used Car Guide.

Used car market continued to show strong demand for fuel efficient cars with the following used cars seeing double digit increases in value since January:

  • Toyota Prius up 24.9%
  • Toyota Corolla up 17.6%
  • Ford Fusion up 14.7%
  • Ford Focus up 14.0%
  • Chevy Cobalt up 13.1%
  • Toyota Camry up 12.4%,
  • Nissan Versa up 11.8%
  • Honda Civic up 10.4%

Big losers in the used car market are:

  • Ford Expedition down 7.6%
  • Ford Explorer down 6.2%
  • GMC Silverado down 4.4%
  • Chevy Tahoe down 3.6%
  • Ford F150 down 2.8%
  • Honda Odyssey down 2.6%

Over and over again, consumers are telling the auto industry and their elected officials that high fuel efficiency is a necessity.  Now is the time to establish the right targets for 2025, 60 mpg, so automakers can be ready with the products that consumer want, the American economy needs to withstand rising energy costs, and address the environmental damage due to our oil addiction.