Toyota Prius C

It seems like it was just a few years ago that car manufacturers used to laugh at us when we'd ask why a new model didn't get any better fuel economy than its outgoing predecessor. "Car buyers don't care about fuel economy," was the refrain, "They certainly won't pay for it."

A few years of three- and four-dollar-per-gallon gas has apparently changed that attitude. According to a new study by Consumer Reports, 37 percent of respondents said fuel economy was now their leading consideration in car shopping, topping all others by a landslide. Quality was the second-most-important factor at 17 percent, while safety was mentioned by 16 percent, and value by 14 percent of shoppers. Two-thirds of respondents said they expected their next new vehicle to beat their current one on fuel economy. And yes, it is the economy, stupid, as 90 percent of those surveyed said high gas prices were the reason why they wanted a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

None of this is too surprising, given what has been going on both in the auto industry and in the larger economy since the economic meltdown of 2008. But we still kind of wonder how performance managed to rate number one with just six percent of those surveyed? Is that it then, there are six times as many tee-totalers than auto enthusiasts out there in the world?

CR says that it called 2,009 people across the country to get its results, obtaining 1,702 responses from adult car owners. Scroll down to read the full press release.
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CONSUMER REPORTS SURVEY: AMERICANS SAY FUEL ECONOMY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT CAR BUYING FACTOR

Nearly three-quarters of drivers would consider an alternative fuel vehicle for their next car

YONKERS, NY - With fuel prices at near record levels, consumers are driving less and contemplating a move to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to recent survey by Consumer Reports.

The survey found that 37 percent said their leading consideration when shopping for their next car will be fuel economy. A distant second was quality (17 percent) followed by safety (16 percent), value (14 percent) and performance (6 percent).

"These results make it clear that high fuel prices are continuing to impact driver behavior and influencing future purchase considerations," said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy auto editor. "While quality, safety and value are still important, this may be foreshadowing a market shift by folks seeking relief at the pump."

Some two-thirds of owners surveyed said they expected their next vehicle to get better fuel mileage than the one they're driving now. While gasoline costs (90 percent) were the number one reason cited for wanting a more fuel-efficient vehicle, more than half of respondents also had other reasons, including a desire to be more environmentally friendly (62 percent) and concern about dependence on foreign oil (56 percent).

Women disproportionately said they were motivated by the environmental benefit of better fuel economy (65 percent vs. 58 percent of men), more concerned about dependence on foreign oil (63 percent vs. 49 percent of men), and impacted by changes on the home front (38 percent vs. 31 percent).

For more information regarding Consumer Reports' fuel economy survey, helpful fuel economy tips and advice on selecting the most fuel-efficient car for your needs visitwww.ConsumerReports.org/fuel.

The survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found that car owners were open to different ways of saving at the pump, from downsizing to looking at hybrids, electric cars, or models with diesel engines. In all, nearly three quarters (73 percent) of participants said they would consider some type of alternatively fueled vehicle, with flex-fuel (which can run on E85 ethanol) and hybrid models leading the way. Younger buyers were more likely to consider an alternatively-fuel or purely electric vehicle than drivers over the age of 55.

Of those who said they plan to move to a different type, owners of large SUVs were the most open to downsizing, frequently planning to move to a smaller SUV. Small cars were the leading category targeted by survey respondents for their next vehicle, followed by larger sedans and midsized SUVs. Further illuminating a future market shift, larger sedans (18 percent) and minivans (7 percent) are on fewer participants' radar relative to their current model.

With the federal government expected to finalize new fuel efficiency standards later this year that would require manufacturer's average fuel economy to reach 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025, some 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statements "Auto manufacturers should offer a greater variety of cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles in the near future." Almost 80 percent felt the same about the statements "Fuel economy standards should require auto manufacturers to increase the overall fleet average to at least 55 miles per gallon," (79%) and "I am willing to pay extra for a more fuel efficient vehicle if I can recover the additional cost through lower fuel costs" (81%).

"When gas prices are high, it's always tempting to rush to trade-in for a more fuel-efficient car to save at the pump. But our research has shown that you're often better off financially to stick it out with the vehicle you have if it's less than three years old, because a new vehicle will cost you more in depreciation than you would save on gas" said Bartlett. The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted the random, nationwide telephone survey in two waves, April 5-7 and April 12-15, 2012, contacting 2,009 adults. The Center interviewed 1,702 adults in households that had at least one car.