Survey Says: 87% Of Us Think Auto Makers Should Improve Fuel Economy

Image courtesy of Jeff Archer

You may really like cars, or driving, but if you’re like most people you probably don’t actually enjoy buying or pumping gas. It’s expensive, tedious, smelly, and flammable, and a new survey finds that a vast majority of us would prefer if our cars could be more efficient so we wouldn’t have to fill ’em up as often.

In fact, a whopping 87% of Americans surveyed think automakers should keep improving fuel economy, according to a study released by our colleagues at Consumers Union today.

Across the board, in fact, consumers think that manufacturers can and should do more, with every kind of vehicle. 79% agreed that even larger vehicles, including SUVs and trucks, should be held to higher standards than they currently are.

Can Automakers Police Themselves?

Respondents in the national survey also felt that it doesn’t seem likely automakers will act without prompting: Only 30% said they believed that automakers particularly cared about lowing fuel costs for consumers.

Unfortunately, the 73% who think that the U.S. government should continue to increase and enforce fuel efficiency standards aren’t going to see that anytime soon.

Back in 2012, the EPA put into place a long-term plan to establish stricter gas mileage and greenhouse emissions standards on most new vehicles by 2025. As part of that rule, the agency would be conducting a midterm review to see if the program was on track and decide if the standards should be revised.

The review was originally expected in 2018 but — perhaps sensing the winds of change — the EPA kicked it out the door in January of this year.

But that report didn’t make it into the Federal Register. Times changed, and so did the political climate, with new industry-friendly leadership in the White House and EPA.

In May, the Trump administration announced that it was rescinding the midterm review of the efficiency standards and that the conclusions reached only months ago are no longer valid.

The old regulation determined that by model year 2025, cars should reach an average fuel efficiency of at least 50 miles per gallon (from an average of 27.5 in 2010). But with the blessing of automakers, that rule is being rescinded.

Several states — California, New York, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — announced shortly after that they would take the federal government to court in order to defend the existing rule and protest the change.

Bad For The Brand

While the EPA might not force automakers to significantly improve fuel efficiency, the car-buying public might.

The survey found that Americans are likely to view a brand overall less favorably if it takes the position that improving fuel efficiency is either too expensive or not important. Brands that did make public statements about improving fuel efficiency, on the other hand, were more likely to be viewed favorably.

And 49% of those surveyed said that they expect the next vehicle they buy will have better fuel economy than the one they drive now, with 10% considering a hybrid for their next car, and 3% considering a fully electric vehicle.

“Even with low gas prices, consumers still want fuel economy to improve,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Automakers should pay attention to these findings and develop more efficient vehicles to give consumers what they want.”