Even with gas prices hitting a slump in the middle of summer driving season, nearly 90 percent of respondents in a new Consumer Reports poll say that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicles, and they overwhelmingly support stricter government-mandated mileage requirements.

The survey also shows that consumers’ positive or negative perception of a car brand is tied to whether the automaker is viewed as building fuel-efficient vehicles.

“With summer driving season underway, consumers don’t want to spend more on gas than they have to,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports. “Even with low gas prices, consumers still want fuel economy to improve, including in larger vehicles.”

Respondents said they want the government to ensure that automakers adhere to stricter economy guidelines.  Nearly three-quarters of respondents agree that the U.S. government should increase and enforce stricter fuel-economy standards.  

“Automakers should pay attention to these findings and develop more efficient vehicles to give consumers what they want,” says Baker-Branstetter.

That desire for government oversight may be in part attributable to the bleak opinion respondents expressed about the auto industry: While half of Americans agree that automakers are doing a good job building fuel-efficient vehicles, that figure nosedives when respondents were asked if car companies care about lowering fuel costs for consumers. Only about 30 percent of those surveyed agreed with that sentiment.

In the survey, 35 percent of respondents placed fuel economy as the aspect of their car that has the most room for improvement. More respondents chose that rather than purchase price (26 percent) and passenger room (14 percent).

While many respondents cited environmental benefits that come with buying a more economical car, the poll found that 57 percent cited lowering fuel bills as an important reason they’d consider a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  

In our survey, the most popular brands were Toyota and Chevrolet, each with 14% of Americans saying they drove a vehicle from the brand. Both of those automakers say they see the value in continuing to focus on efficiency. “Improving the fuel efficiency and minimizing the environmental impact of our vehicles has always been a top priority” said Corey Proffitt, a Toyota spokesman. “In the short-term, consumer preferences will fluctuate with the ebb and flow of gas prices,” he said, while “at Toyota, we take a long-term approach toward planning.”

Chevrolet spokesman Joe LaMuraglia emphasized how that automaker places importance on meeting specific customer needs. The needs of a Camaro sports car or Tahoe SUV buyer may be the polar opposite to those of someone considering a Cruze sedan, or the new Bolt EV. But no matter the need, Chevrolet is focusing on improving mpg, he said.

"Fuel-efficient technologies are employed on our trucks, SUVs and performance cars,” he said, noting that “features such as Active Fuel Management enable our V8 engines to operate seamlessly with only 4 cylinders under certain conditions."

Although automakers say that they're eager to meet customer demands for fuel efficiency, the industry has lobbied successfully against attempts to make regulatory fuel economy targets more ambitious. In March, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the main industry lobbying group, applauded the Trump Administration's decision to rework Obama-era targets.

The group responded that automakers support improving fuel economy but spokesman Wade Newton said that “the combination of low gas prices and conventional engine improvements create challenges in moving large numbers of consumers to alternative powertrain vehicles, which will have to happen for the aggressive CAFE targets to be successful.”

Consumer Reports statisticians did an analysis last year of responses from about 1 million subscribers and found a strong positive correlation between owner satisfaction and fuel economy.

The nationally representative survey released today involved 1,021 adult U.S. residents, and was conducted from June 1-9, 2017.

How Accurate Are Fuel Economy Estimates?

How accurate are the gas mileage estimates that come with new cars? On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, Consumer Reports' expert Ryan Pszczolkowski explains how CR confirms the amount of fuel an engine is using—and offers tips for maximizing your mpgs. 

This article has been updated to include comment from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.