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Do consumers vote with their dollars for higher mpg?

Consumer Reports News: May 02, 2013 04:38 PM

Car buyers aren't just paying lip service regarding good fuel economy, they are putting their money where their mouth is.

According to a new study (pdf) by the Consumer Federation of America, fully 88 percent of consumers say fuel economy is an important factor in choosing their next car, and they expect their next cars to get as much as seven mpg more than their current ride.

Further, survey respondents indicated that they support strict government standards to ensure cars continue to get better fuel economy: 85 percent said they support the federal 54.5 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards passed last year. (Read our position on the new standards.)

To learn about saving gas, visit our guide to fuel economy.

CFA's conclusions corroborate previous findings by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, which showed two thirds expect their next car to get better fuel economy. Even the National Automobile Dealers Association released its own study this week showing that buyers rank fuel economy as the highest priority in a new car—leading by a significant margin over vehicle design, brand perception, and safety. The people have spoken, and they demand better fuel economy. (See our best and worst cars for fuel economy.)

Federal standards have encouraged improvements in new-car fuel economy, even as gas prices have begun to fall from the historic highs that lingered throughout the recent recession. And consumers are voting their support for the standards with their pocketbooks. Half of all cars sold in 2012 were bought with four-cylinder engines, compared with just 30 percent in 2005. It is clear that both industry and consumer demand are changing. In fact, from 2007 to 2012, EPA estimates that fuel economy values have increased by 16 percent.

The percentage of new cars that get more than 30 mpg in EPA combined fuel economy rose from 4 percent in 2009 to 12 percent in 2013, while those that get less than 17 mpg fell from 17 percent to 7 percent in the same timeframe.

That sounds like progress to us.

Updated: 5/3/13

Eric Evarts

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