New Poll: Building a "Fleet of Dreams" for Today's Consumer

“If you build it, they will come.” 

That famous line from the film, Field of Dreams, captures today’s mood of American car buyers.  According to a new national survey conducted and released today by a leading polling firm, The Mellman Group, voters want cars that go much farther on a gallon of gas and cut carbon dioxide pollution – if Detroit and other automakers will only build them.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with three other groups--Environment America, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists—commissioned the poll in order to gauge public support for their “” campaign. Last week, I blogged on the process for how the US EPA and NHTSA will set the next generation of vehicle standards and my colleague, Luke Tonachel, blogged on how we can meet a 60 mile per gallon (60MPG) standard.

Top findings from the public opinion poll, which surveyed likely voters from across the country, include:

  • 74% favor a federal standard requiring the auto industry to meet a 60MPG fleetwide average. 
  • 83% favor paying an additional $3,000 for a vehicle in 2025 if they would then save $3,000 in gasoline costs within four years of purchasing the vehicle.
  • 75% of respondents felt that increasing average MPG for vehicles would either create new American jobs or have no affect on jobs.
  • 86% of respondents felt that the technology needed to achieve a 60MPG standard already exists or could be developed with a serious effort.

After initially insisting that American car buyers were asking for the impossible, today automakers seem to be reassessing their views on fuel-efficient vehicles (much as they did when it came to air bags, seat belts, and catalytic converters).  Ford has said that hybrids could make up as much as 25 percent of its global fleet by 2020.  The company is rolling out two electric vehicles and two new hybrids by 2012. Honda is reported to be phasing out the gas-powered Civic and will only sell the hybrid version Japan . GM and Nissan are introducing the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF this year.   Up and coming Hyundai has already voluntarily pledged to achieve 50 mpg by 2025.  Unfortunately the auto industry's head lobbyist in Washington  seems out of step – already stating resistance to mileage goals that are not only achievable, but foreign competitors already have a head start.

Over the next five years, consumers can expect even greater choices of fuel efficient cars. According to one recent forecast, there will be more than 100 hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) models in the U.S. by 2015, and  in the 2011 model year, we’ll double the number of hybrids and EVs on the market in the United States. The author of the forecast, Alan Baum, predicts the market for hybrids is poised for rapid growth as automakers offer more model choices and consumers gain more familiarity with the technology..

If American automakers hope to compete in a worldwide market with the Hondas and Toyotas of the world, who are already producing the highest mileage cars on the market today, our nation must set the bar high so that U.S automakers seriously commit to investing in clean and efficient car technologies.  Unleashing our engineers and auto workers to do what America does best, innovate, is the key to restoring the U.S. auto industry to its once undisputed position of global leadership.   

The United States put a man on the moon within eight short years of setting that seemingly impossible goal. There is no doubt in my mind that in 15 years we can build a smart and efficient “fleet of dreams” that Americans want and will buy—one that gets American drivers 60MPG.