Yep, Car Buyers Rate Fuel Economy Number One, But...

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There's good news and bad news for green car fans in the latest J.D. Power and Associates Avoider Study.

For a decade, that study has interviewed recent car buyers, asking detailed questions about their purchase decisions. As you might guess from the title of the survey, Power focuses not only on positive factors that drew customers to particular makes and models, but also on the negative ones that caused shoppers to turn their backs.

After speaking with approximately 31,000 individuals who registered new vehicles in May 2012, Power unearthed some interesting data. 

The good news is that fuel economy remains a major consideration for new-car shoppers -- in fact, it's more important than any other criteria.

The bad news is that fuel economy has a lot of competition for that honor. In all, just 15% of those surveyed said that fuel economy was their #1 criteria in choosing a new car, but as low as that figure sounds, it still outranked styling, reliability, and cost. In other words: fuel economy is leading the pack, but not by much.

As a result, many of those competing factors can keep shoppers away from cars -- even cars with excellent fuel economy. A third of those surveyed said that they had avoided a particular car because they didn't like its exterior styling, while 19% said that interior styling could have a similarly chilling effect. And 17% of respondents said that they'd avoided a vehicle because of the image it conveys. That might mean that they'd passed up a large SUV because it appeared wasteful and excessive, or it could mean they dodged a Toyota Prius because it seemed too smugly eco-friendly.

As far as hybrids and electric cars are concerned, pricing seems to be the biggest hurdle facing automakers. A whopping 36% of consumers avoided such vehicles because of their sticker prices.

Car companies could stand to work on the styling of their fuel-sipping models, too. Of those Power surveyed, 25% said that they'd avoided a hybrid or electric car because they didn't like its looks. 

Not surprisingly, those who do buy hybrids and EVs do so because they prioritize fuel economy and, to a lesser degree, eco-friendliness. Among respondents who'd purchased such vehicles, 95% cited gas mileage as a major factor in their purchase decision, and 62% added that the vehicle's reduced environmental impact was also important.


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Comments (11)
  1. Based on this survey results, we would see why Tesla S at its expensive sticker price still gathers such large following...

    MPGe, Style, Performance and Image trumps price in this case.

  2. Yep, I have a Tesla S on order. As Mr. Li says, it fits all the criteria. I never thought I'd spend this much on a car but after driving the Tesla S and looking at all the expensive Audi's in my neighborhood, the Tesla being a better car overall and electric to boot, is starting to look like good value.

  3. Ah, a kindred spirit! My Model S is supposed to be delivered this week. Four out of five sock puppets agree! Beware to all prospective Model S shoppers though, "I never thought I'd spend this much on a car" is a key feature of the Tesla buying experience. You were warned!

  4. How about sending the errant reporter a very unfriendly note for dissing a technology he knows nothing about?

  5. Sorry, which reporter is that?

  6. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." . Good article, though. Thanks.

  7. "As far as hybrids and electric cars are concerned, pricing seems to be the biggest hurdle facing automakers."

    I think we should point out one thing. The price is NOT an issue if the product is superior in just about every other area (performance, look, image, efficiency). The perfect example is Tesla S.

    However, many hybrids and electric vehicles commends a higher price without delivering much in other area. Most people have to pay higher price and end up getting less performance, less desirable (in looks) and slightly more efficient car. That is why they aren't selling as hot as Tesla.

    That is why I think ELR has some decent chance to sell well. And Leaf needs to step up in performance and style.

  8. I completely agree with you, except on one small point -- namely, that for many shoppers, prices of hybrids and EVs will remain an issue until they are on-par with those of gas vehicles. A significant portion of shoppers in the U.S. and elsewhere focus solely on the short-term expense of purchasing a vehicle. Even if the cost of ownership works out to be cheaper for an EV or hybrid, they can't see past the sticker price. (This is why the Nissan Versa sells like hotcakes.)

  9. I agree. Many buyers are short-sighted. The sales of hybrids/EV seems to track the price of the gas pretty well.

    However, with that said, the upfront cost is important to many people. The saving over long term is harder to justify if people have cash crunch or they don't think they will keep the vehicle long enough to recoup the cost upfront (1 bird in hand is better than 2 birds in the bush). Also, hybrids/EV just ask for too many compromises with so many "unknown" at this stage. BEVs are especially true. In only 2 model year, the Leaf has improved signficantly (and cheaper). Buyers are afraid to commit at this point.

  10. I did some calculations on the energy efficiency of the Model S
    and discovered that it qualifies as a gas guzzler. Of course, the fact that it weighs more than a GMC pickup might be part of the problem.

  11. @Kerry: Please post those calculations here. I suspect our readers would enjoy seeing and analyzing them.

    Second, the curb weight of a Tesla Model S is 4,650 pounds. The curb weight of a GMC Sierra pickup starts at 4,460 and rises substantially from there depending on cab size, engine option, towing capacity, bed length, and so forth.

    The Tesla is far more aerodynamic than the truck, and holds as many or more people. So, do post those calculations. I'd like to see them.

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