Fuel economy top of mind for car buyers, despite low gas prices


Saving the planet and reducing fuel bills sounds like a win-win for every car buyer.

And both outcomes appear to be gaining at least some ground when you look at the results of a consumer survey that places fuel efficiency top among car-buying factors.

Of 1,006 consumers surveyed, 57 percent said it was the primary influence in their vehicle purchase, according to the research commissioned by Johnson Controls, an automotive battery manufacturer.

Car buyers are putting fuel economy first despite low gas prices, although they are still moving toward larger vehicles that typically consume more fuel.

“What we’re seeing in the marketplace due to low and stable gas prices is a migration to larger vehicles, but the expectation now is that those vehicles come with increased fuel efficiency,” said Joe Walicki, president of Johnson Controls.

Start-stop “the next big technology” for efficiency

Car makers are making “significant strides” in improving fuel efficiency, according to the battery company, and have cut emissions by implementing technologies like turbo charging and engine downsizing, and by making vehicles lighter. The next milestone, it says, will be start-stop technology, which enables a vehicle’s engine to shut off at stops like red lights and traffic jams. Johnson Controls predicts half of all new vehicles will be equipped with start-stop technology by 2020.

In other recent surveys and research:

  • Data on car-buying habits gathered by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute also points toward the improvements automakers are making in fuel efficiency. Sales-weighted average fuel economy results, for light-duty vehicle sales, inched up to 25.4 mpg in July, from 25.3 mpg in June, and are part of a steady growth pattern for 2016, according to consumer technology website CNET.com.
  • And a poll by the National Resources Defense Council indicates Americans increasingly care about fuel-efficient vehicles, finding that 79 percent of respondents want the government to continue to increase fuel-efficiency standards. It also found 77 percent believe that cars and trucks contribute to the problem of air pollution “a great deal or somewhat.”
  • While fuel efficiency was the number one factor among consumers buying a car in the Johnson Controls survey, another recent survey of car buyers by J.D. Power indicates reliability is the strongest influence when choosing a vehicle.
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