Fuel economy is about even with reliability as the top factors that people consider when buying a vehicle, according to a nationwide poll taken for Consumer Reports magazine.
The Associated Press reported that the telephone survey, taken Aug. 3-7 as gasoline prices remained around $3 per gallon, showed that 27% of likely vehicle buyers ranked gas mileage as the top factor in an automobile purchase.
Reliability was the top factor for 25%, followed by purchase price for 14% and safety features among 12%, according to the poll taken by Opinion Research Corp. Five percent said manufacturer and dealer incentives are the top factor in an auto purchase, and 3% said styling.
On the surface, the poll results appear to indicate further trouble for the Big Three domestic auto manufacturers, which rely more on truck and sport utility vehicle sales for their profits than their foreign-based competitors. Truck and SUV sales were down for the first seven months of the year compared with the same period in 2005, while car sales were up.
But Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst at Global Insight Inc., said her company’s research shows consumers often say one thing when polled and then do something else when it comes time to make a purchase.
Americans, she said, are loath to give up the storage space and seating of an SUV and switch to a sedan.
“It’s kind of difficult to get out of an SUV-crossover vehicle and go back to a sedan,” she said. “When push comes to shove, it’s tough to give up an SUV, especially because there are crossovers now that do get better gas mileage.”
The survey also showed that incentives such as rebates and free gasoline have been used so often by manufacturers that consumers look past them to other factors, said Rob Gentile, director of Consumer Reports’ car information products.
The poll was the magazine’s first of this size dealing with auto purchases, Gentile said. Past research has shown gas mileage as an important factor in buying decisions, but it hasn’t ranked as high, he said.