Most car buyers expect their next new vehicle to be the same size as the model they currently drive, but those who are looking to downsize are motivated by improved fuel economy, lower maintenance and repair costs, environmental concerns, and improved reliability, according to a new survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Among the drivers interviewed, the majority (56 percent) said they expect their next vehicle to be the same size as their current model. A quarter of respondents plan to downsize, and interestingly 19 percent expect to buy a larger vehicle. Older buyers and Northeast residents (where gas prices are higher than in much of the country) are more likely to buy the same size. Those drivers aged 18-34 years are more likely to upsize.
These findings are from a recent random, nationwide telephone survey of 911 adult car owners in the United States.
|Reasons for downsizing ||Percentage |
|Improved fuel economy ||92 |
|Lower maintenance and repair costs || 71 |
|Environmental concerns ||67 |
|Improved reliability ||67 |
|Lower purchase price ||65 |
|Don't need the passenger/cargo space ||61 |
|Improved safety ||59 |
|Don't need as much power ||54 |
With this audience skewing older, buyers are looking to reduce costs and may no longer need a large vehicle, particularly among empty nesters. This is a practical group, looking at their wallet and larger concerns.
|Reasons for upsizing ||Percentage |
|Need more passenger/cargo space ||80 |
|Improved comfort || 72 |
|Improved safety || 66 |
|More reliable ||60 |
|Improved fuel economy ||55 |
|Lower maintenance and repair costs ||50 |
Many young drivers have older vehicles, and as they establish careers, there is a natural ambition to have a new or newer car that is more comfortable and reliable. Further, this younger demographic is in their family-starting years, likely motivating the need for more passenger space. That more than half of this group desires better fuel economy than their current model. While it is true that some of the large sedans, SUVs, and pickups are more fuel-efficient than their mechanical predecessors, the actual improvement in gas mileage is likely to be modest.
Future buying trends
We asked respondents what cars they drive most often and what car type they plan to buy next. We found that more women (26 percent) than men (18 percent) drive a small car, while more men (22 percent) than women (6 percent) drive pickup trucks.
On average, drivers said they get 23.0 miles per gallon in their current vehicle, with most (77 percent) falling in the 15-34 mpg range. When asked about their expectations for their next ride, the median fuel efficiency was 29 mpg - a 6 mpg improvement. Those under age 35 were even more optimistic.
|Car type ||Current car (%) ||Next car (%) ||Change (% pts) |
| Small car ||22 ||26 ||+3.6 |
|Small SUV |
| 9 ||12 ||+2.7 |
| Sporty car |
|3 ||5 ||+1.4 |
|Midsize SUV ||11 ||11 ||0 |
| Convertible |
|1 ||0 ||-0.1 |
|Large SUV ||5 ||5 ||-0.2 |
|Wagon ||3 ||3 ||-1.1 |
|Pickup ||14 ||12 ||-2.1 |
|Minivan ||10 ||6 ||-3.6 |
|Sedan ||21 ||16 ||-5.7 |
Clearly, the economy and fuel prices are influencing buying trends. Should either change dramatically, more significant changes are likely. For now, our random panel shows a slight shift toward small cars and small SUVs. These car shoppers will have new, promising models to choose from, with many automakers expanding their product line into the small size and/or updating their existing models.
In these tough times, many Americans may realize that they can satisfy their transportation needs with a right-sized vehicle that can address the lion's share of their needs, rather than buying a model to address rare occasions, such as having family visit for the holidays or to buy lumber. Often, simply renting a vehicle for those infrequent uses can be far more cost effective than driving an oversized vehicle everyday.
How higher gas prices impact that appeal of car downsizing
Lessons in car downsizing
Downsizing: Choosing a used car to save gas and money
Downsizing: Right-sizing the sedan fuel bill is no easy challenge
Downsizing your SUV for better mpg—does it make cents?
How to know when it’s time to downsize your car
Downsizing: The 12 most useful cars per mpg