Quality? Don’t Care. Performance? No. Safety? Pass. Fuel Economy? Yes Please!

Ford Focus Electric

Fuel economy, at least temporarily, has become the single most important factor to new-car buyers.

I say “temporarily” because we all know it won’t last.

Americans have a tendency to overreact to things. Remember in 2008, when gas prices jumped and folks traded in their SUVs en masse for more fuel efficient rides? Remember, later that year, when prices dipped below $2/gallon and many of those same buyers flocked back to their big rigs?

Now it’s 2012, and prices are hovering near $4 again. No surprise that fuel economy is an important factor for buyers, but *the* most important? This world has gone crazy.

I’m so surprised because fuel economy, according to a Consumer Reports study, is far more important to buyers than quality, safety or performance. Apparently, if an unintended acceleration problem arises and the airbags don’t go off when the car hits the guard rail, everything is okay as long as the car gets over 30 mpg.

“These results make it clear that high fuel prices are continuing to impact driver behavior and influencing future purchase considerations,” said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports’ deputy auto editor. “While quality, safety and value are still important, this may be foreshadowing a market shift by folks seeking relief at the pump.”

Well, foreshadowing a market shift until prices either drop or people get used to current levels, that is. In the U.S., people tend to forget the past easily and get really freaked out about the present. Those freak-outs often lead to spur-of-the-moment purchases, rationalized by an urgent need to create change. Hence, I believe, the current popularity of fuel economy.

It won’t be long before the next CR study comes out, hailing safety or quality as the number one influencing factor in new-car purchases, because, sooner or later, there will be an event that makes people think that’s what they need.

Easy question today: What is the number one factor you consider when buying a new car: fuel economy, safety, quality, performance or something else?


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  1. It depends on what I need the vehicle to do. For my most recent car purchase, economy was important because I wanted a small car to cover our small trips, which are 80% of our driving. Quality was also important and because I knew I would be buying a small car, I wanted an up to date airbag configuration and a decent safety rating. Cost was important but not the prime consideration. All that lead to a Toyota Prius C.
    For the vehicle before that, I was repeatedly getting stuck in my own driveway during snow storms and also needed something that could tow a decent size cargo trailer. Again, I didn’t need anything too large, and wanted something safe. Chevy Trailblazer 4WD.
    The “numbers” can be a bit misleading because small cars tend to have lower safety ratings simply because of the lack of structure and mass. Another factor might be that many people who don’t have much money are buying economy cars to replace older gas hogs, and lowest cost might be a big factor, leading people to buy the smallest and lightest econoboxes. In any case, products in the North American market are the safest automotive products in the world with many features and systems that were safety expert’s dreams just a few years ago. And that’s not just a few products, that’s all of them.

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