Fuel Efficiency Ranks as Most Important Factor in Vehicle Purchases, Study Says

Just the Facts:
  • Americans rank fuel efficiency as the most important factor in their decision to purchase a vehicle, according to a recent study.
  • The study, conducted by Kelton Global, found that 79 percent of those surveyed put fuel efficiency above safety and even price.
  • Funded by the American Chemistry Council, the study also found that 55 percent of respondents didn't realize that lighter-weight vehicles are more fuel efficient.

WASHINGTON — Americans rank fuel efficiency as the most important factor in their decision to purchase a vehicle, according to a recent study conducted by market research firm Kelton Global for the American Chemistry Council.

The study, Driving Toward Change, found that of more than 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed, 79 percent said fuel efficiency is more important than safety, body type or even price when purchasing a car.

Further demonstrating the importance of fuel savings to consumers, the researchers also learned that 37 percent of respondents said they will drive some distance to find gas at a lower price.

Since the survey was funded by the ACC and its Plastics Division, it's not surprising that a number of questions focused on the use of lightweight materials in vehicle manufacturing.

Remarkably, even though the majority of respondents said they value fuel efficiency over other automobile specifications and features, only about half (55 percent) knew that a lighter-weight vehicle is more fuel-efficient.

"What many car buyers don't realize is that lighter materials place less of a strain on a car's engine and improve gas mileage," said Steve Russell, vice president of the ACC Plastics Division, in a statement. "For many of today's cars, plastics make up 50 percent by volume — but only 10 percent by weight, which is great news for Americans concerned about paying too much at the pump."

Automakers are under considerable pressure to increase fuel efficiency, especially in light of the well-publicized federal CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards that by 2025 will require the average vehicle to achieve 54.5 mpg in combined city/highway fuel efficiency.

Among other solutions being implemented by the industry is replacing heavy materials with those that weigh less. Some vehicles, like the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, take advantage of high-tech plastics and materials like carbon fiber to go on a diet, but aluminum is the structural material that seems to be on the rise within the industry, for its combination of strength, light weight and reasonable cost.

A good example is the 2015 Ford F-150, which for the first time features aluminum body panels. By switching from steel to aluminum, Ford was able to shave about 700 pounds off the truck's weight. Although EPA fuel economy numbers have not yet been released for the 2015 F-150, Ford says the switch to aluminum could help boost efficiency by as much as 20 percent.

And, as previously reported by Edmunds, a study from Ducker Worldwide said more than 75 percent of pickups produced in North America will have aluminum bodies by 2015. Overall, the analysts concluded, we can expect to see the number of all types of vehicles with aluminum bodies to increase to 18 percent of North American production, up from less than 1 percent today.

Edmunds says: Reducing vehicle weight should help provide consumers with the fuel economy this study found is at the top of their car-shopping lists.

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