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Historically, when gas prices are relatively stable, fuel efficiency doesn't rank very high on car buyers' lists of priorities.
But that seems to have changed recently. A new survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that fuel economy was the leading consideration of 37 percent of buyers surveyed--a higher percentage than any other factor named, and well ahead of vehicle quality at 17 percent.
Surprisingly, while gas prices were the most common reason for wanting a more fuel-efficient vehicle--named by 9 out of 10 respondents--other factors played a significant role as well.
Green desires, energy concerns
The owners surveyed also cited their desire to live in a more environmentally friendly fashion (62 percent), as well as concerns over energy independence and imported oil (56 percent).
Both of those concerns were cited more by women than by men: 65 vs. 58 percent for greener living, and 63 vs. 49 percent for dependence on imported oil.
After fuel economy, the other factors cited as leading considerations were safety (16 percent), overall value (14 percent), and the vehicle's performance (a mere 6 percent).
Almost two-thirds of owners surveyed expected their next car to get better gas mileage than their current vehicle, perhaps reflecting widespread public awareness of rising corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rules in effect for 2012 through 2016 models.
Smaller cars OK
Car owners appear to be amenable to various methods for saving fuel, including downsizing their next vehicle and considering vehicles with alternative powertrains.
Perhaps not surprisingly, owners of large sport-utility vehicles were most amenable to reducing the size of their next vehicle, usually to a smaller SUV or crossover.
The single most frequently mentioned category of vehicle targeted by buyers was small cars--compacts and subcompacts--while full-size sedans and minivans fell in popularity.
E85 and hybrids
Flex-fuel models (which can run on E85 ethanol) were most acceptable, despite the paucity of E85 stations in most areas of the country, along with hybrids, which have now been on sale in the U.S. for 13 years.
Pure electric vehicles were more popular among younger buyers than those over 55, as were alternative-fuel vehicles in general.
What about you?
We suspect Green Car Reports readers may not be a representative cross-section of the car-buying public, but we'd like to hear your thoughts.
Will the next vehicle you purchase be more fuel-efficient? Will it be the same kind of car (compact sedan, mid-size crossover, etc.) as your current vehicle, or smaller?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.