Fuel Price Increases Spur Changes in American Drivers1
The Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted monthly by AutoPacific’s VehicleVoice indicates that the median fuel price paid by U.S. motorists increased by 12 cents, to $2.42 per gallon, the highest level since $2.83 in October, 2005. The March data are based on the results of an Internet survey with 1,060 VehicleVoice panel members completing the survey between March 14 and March 21, 2006.
Replacement Vehicle Interest Shifts Towards Small/Mid-Size Cars
As reported in prior months, respondents indicate that if they were to replace their current vehicle at this time, they would be more likely to buy a more fuel efficient Small or Mid-Size Car, and less likely to buy a less fuel efficient Large/Luxury Car or an SUV. The interest in more discretionary Sports/Sporty Cars and in Pickup Trucks, which often meet a specific functional need, remains close to current levels. The interest in a Hybrid powered vehicle remains very high relative to their current small share of vehicles in operation, but appears to be moderating somewhat. In October, 2005, 14.8% of respondents indicated that they would like a Hybrid engine if they were to replace their current vehicle, but in March, the percentage indicating an interest in a Hybrid powered vehicle had declined to 11.5%.
Most Check Fuel Prices, but Many Have Not Changed Driving Habits
We were wondering if people actually check the price of fuel before they fill up. One fellow in the office contends he never checks. He contends that he cannot do anything about it, so just pay up and drive off. Well, he certainly is not in the majority. Seventy percent of respondents indicated that they “always” check fuel prices, while only 5% say they “never” check fuel prices… and while 43% say they “always” shop for the lowest fuel price, 47% “sometimes” do so, and only 10% say they “never” shop for the lowest fuel price.
When asked if higher fuel prices would cause you to change the type of vehicle you drive, a surprisingly high 65% said “no”. They like what they have, and are reluctant to change. When asked at what fuel price they would change their vehicle type, the median answer was $3.28 per gallon, up 86 cents per gallon or 35% from the March survey median fuel price of $2.42.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents indicated that higher fuel prices had caused them to combine trips to save fuel, and 31% say they drive slower and smoother than they used to. On the other hand, fully 29% say that higher fuel prices have not caused them to change their driving habits at all.
The median price respondents expect to be paying for fuel a year from now was $2.74 per gallon in March, significantly less than the price at which most say they would be willing to change vehicle type.