Fuel Economy Still Most Important Car Buying Factor, Despite Falling Gas Prices

Tue, 3/6/2018 - 7:12 pm by Kirsten Rincon

Gas prices have been declining for six straight months, which was expected to make a lot of consumers stop being so preoccupied with fuel economy and start buying gas-guzzling vehicles again. But, even though sales of vehicles that don’t have particularly good gas mileage, such as SUVs, pickup trucks and crossovers, have increased over the past couple of months, a lot of car buyers remain concerned about fuel economy, a new study says.

According to the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Avoider Study, fuel economy is still the most important factor taken into account by new-car buyers, which comes as a bit of a surprise, with gasoline prices hitting a record low. J.D. Power and Associates have been doing this study for 12 straight years, and fuel efficiency has been the leading reason for making consumers buy a certain vehicle in the last four years. The study says that 14% of new-car buyers consider gas mileage to be the most significant aspect of the purchase decision process, and it’s particularly influential among those buying midsize, compact and small cars.

The study analyzes the factors affecting consumers’ car-buying decision process, as well as the reasons why consumers reject a certain model, with 16% of the respondents citing gas mileage as the second-most important reason for avoiding specific models when shopping for a new car. 30% of respondents said that exterior design was the leading reason car buyers avoid a specific model, which was followed by interior design (17%). Aside from design and fuel economy, insufficient technological features also influence consumer decisions to buy or reject a vehicle, with 15% of the respondents saying that they avoided a model because of the lack of certain high-tech features.

In addition to the factors influencing a person’s car-buying decision, the study looked into how slumping gas prices are affecting demand for alternative fuel vehicles. Results from the study showed that 24% of the people who traditionally like gasoline-powered vehicles avoid buying a hybrid type vehicle due to cost. This applies especially to consumers born between 1977 and 1994, otherwise known as Generation Y, which is the largest population cohort the U.S. has ever seen, with 27% saying that hybrids are too expensive. At the moment, sales plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars make up 3.5% of all new-vehicles sales, a 0.3% decrease from 2013.

The U.S. Government has set new, tougher fuel economy standards, requiring all new vehicles to have an average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025, which will be a difficult target to meet for automakers. “Factors such as fuel prices and consumer demand may make these tough standards even harder to achieve, as you can’t mandate what people want to buy,” said Arianne Walker, senior director, automotive media & marketing at J.D. Power.