Gas has to cost $3 a gallon before it affects vehicle choice, study says


Gas pump

Gas pump

Continuing low gas prices are often blamed for the current popularity of crossover utilities and SUVs, along with any sales struggles green cars may experience.

But would a sudden increase in gas prices cause shoppers to flock to more fuel-efficient vehicles?

If so, how high would gas prices have to get in order for consumers to start changing their vehicle preferences?

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The "magic number" is $3.00 a gallon, according to a new study by market-research firm MaritzCX (via Wards Auto).

Once the price reaches that point, consumers begin to cite fuel costs as a major consideration in vehicle choice, MaritzCX says.

Over the past 10 years, fuel economy has risen to be the number-one listed priority for consumers when gas prices hit $3.00 a gallon—but dropped to as low as number 10 on the list of considerations when prices fell below $2.50 a gallon.

2017 Toyota Prius

2017 Toyota Prius

In a 2016 survey of car buyers, only 4 percent cited fuel economy as the main reason for buying a certain vehicle.

With gas prices projected to remain low, "we would look for fuel economy to remain at or near the bottom of the top 10 reasons to purchase," Shawn St. Clair, MaritzCX's global syndication director, told Wards.

ALSO SEE: Hatchback renaissance: are they seen as utility vehicles now? (Nov 2016)

Interest in fuel economy can also depend on the type of vehicle, according to a separate study conducted by CDK, which provides information services to car dealers.

CDK's "Language of Closers" research seeks to identify words or phrases that readily "convert" window shoppers into interested customers willing to plunk down money for a car.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado

2017 Chevrolet Colorado

It found the word "mileage" had more appeal in this regard with pickup-truck shoppers than sedan shoppers.

The research firm concluded this is actually because pickup trucks are not known for fuel economy, and so one that returns even respectable gas-mileage ratings stands out more.

MORE: Electric-car market share in 2020: estimates vary widely

Regardless of consumer preferences, all new vehicles will likely continue to become more efficient in order to meet stricter emissions standards.

It's also possible that gas prices may eventually return to $3.00 a gallon at some point, which will let us see if shoppers suddenly become more enthusiastic about greener vehicles.

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