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Survey: Car owners want better fuel-economy, support increased standards

Consumer Reports News: November 14, 2011 06:08 AM

An overwhelming majority (93 percent) of adult car owners want to see stricter fuel-economy standards, according to a new survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. More than 90 percent want automakers to offer a larger variety of fuel-efficient vehicles, and about two-thirds say they expect to purchase a vehicle with better fuel economy.

Other key survey findings:

  • Eighty-three percent of survey respondents say they’d be willing to pay more for a fuel-efficient car.
  • A majority (56 percent) say they will consider an electric or hybrid for their next car, but only 16 percent are thinking about a diesel.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) would consider buying some type of hybrid or electric car if they become more widely available over the next 15 years.

Committing to going green
Survey respondents want to improve fuel economy and benefit the nation, but to achieve these goals, they want government leadership. Eighty-six percent of the interviewed car owners want to see automakers’ fleet average rise to 35 mpg by 2016 and 80 percent would like to see fuel economy standards rise to 55 mpg by 2025—a current proposal that Consumer Reports supports.

To get the job done, most people (83 percent) said they would be willing to pay extra for a more fuel-efficient vehicle, if they could recover that extra outlay within five years.

While 64 percent of respondents say their next car will be one with better fuel economy, a sizeable 40 percent expect to purchase a vehicle with much better gas mileage. Almost 90 percent of those seeking better fuel economy cite cost savings as a key motivator, but environmental friendliness is a strong second place at 72 percent.

Green concerns vary by miles driven
For respondents who drive less than 20 miles per day, environmental friendliness is a stronger motivator for saving gas than for those driving longer distances daily. Seventy-nine percent of those owners consider “greenness” as an important motivator versus 62 percent of those driving 50 miles or more per day. Green issues resonate a little more with women than men (75 vs. 70 percent), whereas men have a greater concern about the nation’s dependence on foreign oil (69 vs. 60 percent).

Pure electric? Not yet
Pure-electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, face a challenge in gaining widespread acceptance. Among respondents interested in a hybrid or electric vehicle, only 12 percent identified a pure-electric car as a possibility for their next purchase.

Education and exposure may lead to a shift in consumer consideration of electric vehicles. The besetting drawbacks of today’s electric cars--range limitations, long charging times, and high purchase prices--are likely factors. However, the average respondent drives only about 32 miles per day—well within the range of current and upcoming electric cars. In fact, we routinely drive twice that distance with our Leaf test car. Over time, as vehicles improve, prices drop, and consumers become more familiar with engine-less cars, we expect interest in electric cars to rise.

The hydrogen hope lives on
Looking further down the road, we asked about both conventional gasoline and alternative-fuel powertrains that may be more widely available in the next 15 years. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they’d be interested in some form of electric alternative by then, such as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, pure-electric, or hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle in the future.

More people said they would consider alternative-fuel options than conventional gasoline-fueled cars, further underscoring the concerns that drivers voiced for the environment and national petroleum consumption. Hybrids led the alternative-fuel options with 58 percent, but hydrogen-fuel-cell cars were cited by a hefty 43 percent. Diesels trailed with just 25 percent. The popularity of fuel-cell cars is a little surprising since they have an uncertain future, whereas fuel-efficient diesel cars are already here and supported by an existing infrastructure. Fuel-cell cars are also likely to be more expensive.

Bottom line
This survey reveals that consumers seek relief from today’s driving costs, though a significant percentage are looking beyond their own pain at the pump to consider larger issues, such as environmental protection, emissions, and dependence on foreign oil. And to achieve these goals, consumers are willing to pay extra for the cars and technology, while supporting the automaker and government actions necessary to make it happen.

The findings are based on a random, nationwide telephone survey of 1,008 adults, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center from October 28-31, 2011.

For more on saving gas, see our guide to fuel economy. Also, check out our guide to alternative fuels to learn more about electric, hydrogen, and other fuel saving technologies.

Gordon Hard

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