At first glance, a recent survey published by Cars.com appears to reinforce the idea that economics trump eco-consciousness when drivers choose which vehicles to buy. The survey, which polled 1,088 men and women over age 18 found that 40% of car shoppers would consider purchasing a more fuel efficient vehicle immediately if gas were more than $4 per gallon. That number is up 12% from those asked the same question (when gas actually was over $4 per gallon) a year ago. An additional 41% said that they would choose a more efficient car the next time they needed one, at those gas prices.
When the price dropped to between $3.75 and $4 per gallon, only 29% of those polled said they would still want to upgrade right away. This number is up from 16% last year.
The survey also found that 64% of people said they wouldn't consider a more efficient car given the current gas prices between $2.50 and $2.75 per gallon. Only 28% of those asked said their next vehicle would be a more efficient model.
Let's review those numbers one more time. Last year, when gas was over $4 per gallon, 28% of people were ready to trade their wheels in the name of fuel efficiency. This year, with gas at $2.50 per gallon, 28% of people would make their next car a more fuel efficient one. Does this mean that high gas prices spur interest in more fuel efficient cars, or does this mean that we're most inclined to maintain the status quo? After all, it was only five short years ago when we panicked about gas prices exceeding $2 per gallon, but now we're OK with it, right?