continues: Consumer Reports magazine reported recently that in an April 2012 telephone survey of 1,702 adult consumers who were asked to state what they believed would be the most important factors in their next new-car purchase, 37 percent cited fuel economy as their top consideration (Consumer Reports, 2012). While altruistic reasons for purchasing a new vehicle—to help improve air quality, reduce oil use, cut GHG emissions, improve the environment—score highly in some special-interest group surveys (Consumer Reports, 2011b), in broader whole-market surveys that allow respondents to list their own reasons for purchase, they appear, at worst, to be not considered at all or, under the best of interpretations, to be secondary, hidden constituents of the more selfish, economics-driven stated reasons such as “wanted better fuel economy” or “wanted new vehicle.” A motivator not mentioned in the surveys cited but known to be a purchase driver of certain AFVs in the state of California is single-occupant access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, also called carpool lanes. Although most states that provide such lanes limit access to vehicles carrying at least two people, California currently permits drivers of most battery electric vehicles, some plug-in hybrids, and all fuel-cell electric vehicles to use the lanes even if there are no passengers in the vehicles when an authorized, state-issued access sticker is displayed. Access to HOV lanes in a state noted for its crowded rush-hour freeway traffic is believed to be an important selling point for those vehicles. Indeed, General Motors has released a television advertisement for its 2013 Volt PHEV that highlights the fact that a specially tuned version of the vehicle qualifies for HOV lane access in California.
Achieving a considerable reduction in LDV fleet GHG emissions and petroleum use through adoption of alternative fuels and powertrains is not likely to be accomplished by appealing to altruism. Once early adopters have made their choices, the remaining 84 percent of consumers are going to have to be persuaded either that the alternative fuels and vehicles offer them an improvement over their present preferences, or that there is a pretty immediate economic benefit to be had in making the switch. Environmental benefits simply do not appear to be a determinant for consumers in large purchases, such as motor vehicles. “Economic concerns are consumers’ priority,” researchers at the Mineta Transportation Institute have found (Nixon and Saphores, 2011, pp. 10-11).
Conventional wisdom holds that American consumers want big cars and trucks with large and powerful engines and that fuel economy just is not that important because gasoline and diesel prices in the United States are so much lower than in much of the rest of the world. Those attitudes certainly have shaped U.S. automakers’ marketing and product planning agendas for most of the time since World War II. As recently as April 2011, in an editorial in the influential trade journal Automotive News, publisher Keith Crain bluntly stated that while the auto industry has responded to rising gasoline prices and increased regulatory demand for better fuel economy with a number of cars that achieve an EPA highway-cycle rating of 40 mpg, “the trouble is, no one wants to buy them” (Crain, 2011). Gloria Bergquist, the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers’ vice president for communications, repeatedly has pointed out that in 2010 a single pickup model—the Ford F150—outsold all 30 gas-electric hybrid cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV)s offered for sale in the United States by mainstream auto manufacturers (Harder, 2011). Those statements reflect consumer choices influenced at least in part by continued low pricing of gasoline. In the past year, however, sales of smaller cars with high fuel efficiency have increased as a percentage of the market, as have sales of larger cars, crossovers, and light-duty trucks that use smaller, more efficient engines to replace “gas guzzler” V6s and V8s (Drury, 2011). History, however, has shown that the march toward efficiency stops when fuel prices have stabilized or dropped after a run-up (see Figure 4.1).
Still, such attitudes may be generational. Most Americans under 40 have now been exposed to smaller vehicles, mainly from the import brands, and, as sales trends show, acceptance of compact cars in the U.S. market is growing. The recession of 2008-2009 and the continued economic slump that has followed certainly have influenced that growth, as have increasing fuel prices in recent years. However, there is evidence indicating that potential savings from fuel efficiency improvements is not a significant factor in consumers’ vehicle purchase choices, indicating that consumers are becoming inured to gasoline price increases because they inevitably have been followed by price decreases. (See details in Section 4.6 below.)
Numerous studies have attempted to quantify the needs and desires that drive LDV-purchase decision making. Their findings are fairly consistent and are exemplified by a recent stated-preference study by Capgemini (2010) that ranked the most important factors gathered from 2,600 online respondents in the United States, Europe, and Asia and found reliability, safety, vehicle price, fuel economy, and the variety and cost of options all in the top 10. Consumers who identified themselves as planning to purchase a new vehicle within the next 15 months were asked to rank the most important factors they would apply to their car-purchase decision making (see Table 4.2).
In addition,, respondents were asked about their interest in so-called green vehicles, and 72 percent of U.S. respondents (versus 57 percent overall) cited fuel economy as the number-one reason they would consider a fuel-efficient petroleum or alternative fuel car or truck. Only 13 percent