With gas prices at an eight-year low, it’s reasonable to assume consumers might not value fuel-efficient cars as much as they did in 2008, when the national average for a gallon of gas reached $4.11. But according to a new nationally representative survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 53 percent of all American vehicle owners expect better fuel economy with their next car purchase.

Among those who want to buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle, keeping money in their wallet was the overwhelming reason for doing so:

  • Decrease spending on fuel/gasoline: 65 percent.
  • Wanting a car with newer technologies: 28 percent.
  • Prepare for future fuel price increases: 26 percent.
  • Don’t want to waste fuel: 25 percent.
  • Lowering carbon pollution: 22 percent.
  • To improve air quality: 22 percent.

“Consumers want cars that don’t drain their pocketbook—either through costly repairs or guzzling gasoline,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “These findings should be another reminder to automakers that developing more fuel efficient vehicles is attractive to their customers.”

And the numbers back this up.

The vast majority of American adults (84 percent) feel that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types. Overall, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed feel that automakers are doing a good job of making fuel-efficient passenger vehicles.

However, the survey showed that vehicle owners don’t think better fuel economy is just a task reserved for the manufacturers. In fact, about three-quarters of survey respondents think the U.S. government should continue to require automakers to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles over time, and 70 percent believe that the government should continue to increase and enforce fuel-efficiency standards.

Specifically, nearly a third (31 percent) of those surveyed said that the government should require automakers to improve fuel economy by 5 to 9 miles-per-gallon every five years for the next 15 years. Others thought this number should be higher.

And many said they’d back up their options with their bank accounts: Sixty percent of those surveyed indicated that they would pay extra for a more fuel-efficient vehicle—if they could recover the additional cost through lower fuel costs within five years. 

The May 2016 survey of more than 1,000 Americans 18 years of age and older focused on better understanding attitudes regarding automotive fuel economy. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents reported owning at least one vehicle.

More MPG Means Greater Owner Satisfaction

A separate subscriber survey from Consumer Reports shows that vehicle owners report greater satisfaction with their vehicles when they achieve higher fuel efficiency.

Researchers identified the association between several vehicle attributes—fuel economy, acceleration, horsepower, reliability, and price—and owner satisfaction. Holding all other factors constant, their analysis found a strong positive correlation between owner satisfaction and fuel economy.

For example, only 45 percent of owners of 2014-15 Ford Fusions who reported achieving 15 mpg were satisfied with their vehicle. Among Fusion owners who achieved 30 mpg, 70 percent were satisfied. The increase in satisfaction tied to fuel economy is consistent with all vehicle types.

The Consumer Reports research team looked at our car-test data to determine fuel economy levels. The team then analyzed survey responses on approximately 1 million vehicles from Consumer Reports subscribers who owned a tested vehicle. The analysis measured satisfaction based on the number of owners who said they would buy their car again.

These findings highlight that owners of cars and trucks place a high value on fuel economy over many other vehicle characteristics, an important consideration as federal and state regulators begin their review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for model years 2022 to 2025.

In fact, fuel economy was second only to reliability in its influence on owner satisfaction. 

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.