Do Fuel Prices Really Affect Vehicle Purchase Intentions?


Drivers today are shelling out nearly $4/gallon, on average, to fill up their vehicles, about 25 cents more than this time last year. But this added expense is not persuading consumers to ditch their SUVs for more fuel efficient small cars. Results from AutoPacific’s latest Fuel Price Impact Survey (FPIS) actually show SUVs being the top vehicle replacement choice, with small cars coming in third. In addition, 76% surveyed would replace their current vehicle with a similarly sized one, whereas only 18% say they would go smaller.

Only Minor Vehicle Segment Shifts: In general, US drivers would not shift to a different vehicle segment when time to replace their current vehicle. Differences from replacement vehicle segment choice and what respondents currently own range between 0-2 percentage points, according to survey results. For example, 28% of respondents own an SUV, and that same percent would choose one for their replacement as well. About 19% would choose a small car, which is two percentage-points higher than current respondent ownership. This is a stark contrast to the July 2008 fuel price spike when the top replacement choice was small cars at 32% of the sample, 12 percentage points higher than current ownership at that time.

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Vehicle Voice February 2006 Survey – Americans Getting Over Fuel Price Shock


The Fuel Price Impact Survey (FPIS) conducted monthly by AutoPacific’s VehicleVoice indicates that the median fuel price paid by U.S. motorists declined from a September 2005 peak of $2.90 per gallon to about $2.30 in February 2006. The February data are based on the results of an Internet survey with 1,079 VehicleVoice panel members completing the survey between February 20 and February 28, 2006.
Vehicle Segment Shifts Moderating — SUV Loyalty Rebounds
In September respondents reacted to the price shock with about 27% of SUV owners saying they would consider buying another type vehicle when they replaced their SUV. Loyalty to SUVs rebounded by February 2006. Only 15% would consider shifting away from SUVs to another type vehicle. Similarly, interest in Small Cars, up by 41% in September, was up only 17% in February.
Powertrain Preference Shifting — 6-Cylinders Preferred
Fuel price declines have also affected respondent’s engine choices. VehicleVoice panel members are now much less likely to abandon 6 and 8-cylinder gasoline engines than they were six months ago. Interest in economical 4-cylinder engines remains at about 20% for their next vehicle; down by about 25% from the percentage of 4-cylinders they are now driving. Interest in hybrid-powered vehicles remains around 10%; substantially higher than the mix of hybrids presently on the road. The 6-cylinder engine remains the engine of choice for the highest percentage (40%) of panelists. Diesel fuel prices have increased relative to gasoline. Last September, diesel fuel was about 10-cents per gallon less than regular gasoline. In February diesel was about 25-cents per gallon more than regular gasoline nationally. Interest in diesel engines, primarily available in heavy-duty pickup trucks, has declined.

Ethanol Issues

President Bush’s State of the Union address in late January focused on ethanol fuels, and both Ford Motor Company and General Motors have aggressively promoted ethanol over the last few weeks. Two thirds of February’s respondents believe that auto manufacturers should offer more vehicles with ethanol (E85) compatibility, and the same percentage say that more gas stations should offer E85. In February, fully 93% of respondents agreed that America needs to be less dependent on imported oil — but only one-in-three was willing to pay more per gallon or accept increased fuel consumption to achieve that goal.

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