New Car Buyers Still Most Concerned About Fuel Economy

Jan 17, 2015 09:30 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

Even though gas prices are at their lowest levels since 2010, fuel-economy is still the most influential factor among most new-vehicle buyers when determining which vehicle they choose, according to a new J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Avoider Study.

Fuel-economy has been the top reason for four straight years. The study did find out that 14 percent of new-vehicle owners believe that gas mileage as the most influential reason for selecting the vehicle they ultimately purchased however.

The study, which is now in its 12th year, looks into the reasons people purchase, don't purchase or avoid certain vehicles altogether while shopping.

Gas mileage is the main reason among buyers of compact, small and midsize cars and compact MPVs. Fuel economy is the second-most common reason why a model isn't chosen by shoppers in favor of another vehicle (16%).

"Consumers know that, although gas prices are low today, the cost of fuel will likely increase during the time they own their vehicle," said Arianne Walker, senior director, automotive media & marketing at J.D. Power., in a company statement. "Clearly, consumers are considering the total cost of ownership when selecting their new vehicle."

Low gas prices are one of the many factors suppressing demand for hybrid/electric vehicles. Hybrid and EVs currently only account for 3.5 percent of new-vehicle sales, down from 3.8 percent in 2013, according to the study. Those who like traditional gasoline-engine vehicles don't buy hybrid models due to cost at a higher rate (24%) than they avoid gasoline engines due to cost (16%).

J.D. Power said that Gen Y consumers, or those born between 1977 and 1994, buy gasoline engines and avoid hybrid models at even greater rates for being too expensive (27%).

"Factors such as fuel prices and consumer demand may make these tough standards even harder to achieve, as you can't mandate what people want to buy," said Walker. "Gen Y, the largest demographic group in U.S. history, comprises approximately 26 percent of the market, and their demand for larger vehicles will increase as their income increases and their households grow, putting further pressure on the ability for automakers to meet the strict federal mandates on gas mileage." 

Other key findings include:

- Exterior look/design is the top reason shoppers avoid a particular vehicle (30%)

-New vehicle buyers said they avoided a vehicle because it lacked the latest technological features at a rate of 15 percent, up from 4 percent last year

The study is based on responses from 30,000 owners who registered a new vehicle in April and May 2014. Answers were collected between July and September of last year, according to J.D. Power.

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