Car Buyers Want Both Power And Efficiency

by | Jan 14, 2008

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With plug-ins, fuel cell vehicles and hybrids sharing the floor alongside hugely powerful muscle cars and ultra-sized SUVs at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, conducted a series of online consumer snap polls.Consumers mixed on muscle

Recent and most-anticipated debuts are the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but, according to the polls, consumers have mixed feelings about these retro muscle cars, with only 28% describing their return as positive, 32% describing it as negative, and 41% describing their feelings as mixed. When pressed on which of the upcoming muscle cars they’d be most likely to buy, it was a close race between the Camaro (29%) and Nissan GT-R (25%).

Mileage trumps horsepower … theoretically

When asked what will matter most during their next vehicle purchase, only 10% cited power and performance, while 38% named gas mileage and environmental friendliness. For most, however, it’s a compromise-with 52% saying they’ll look for the best available combination they can find between power and efficiency. And although people say they place a high priority on being green, most (53%) said they traded up in terms of horsepower in their most recent vehicle purchase.

Full-size hybrid SUVs and trucks get a big response

Thanks to GM’s new “two-mode” hybrid technology, full-size SUVs and trucks – like the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado, Cadillac Escalade and Dodge Durango- are about to come out in hybrid models that should deliver mileage in the 20-25 miles-per-gallon range. Sixty-two percent of car shoppers surveyed described their reaction to these vehicles as positive. And 28% say their arrival will impact what they’re considering for their next vehicle purchase, either significantly or somewhat (“if the price difference and fuel benefits make sense”). Only 8% said they plan to buy a full-size SUV truck but won’t pay the premium for hybrid benefits. The remaining 64% say they won’t consider a full-size SUV or truck – hybrid or otherwise.

The Toyota/GM PR Wars asked a series of questions designed to determine whether consumer perceptions of Toyota and GM shifted over the past year.

Despite some recent press concerning Toyota’s environmental stance and reliability ratings, most survey-takers (41%) say their perception of Toyota is about the same as it had been a year ago, and the remainder was roughly split between having a more positive vs. less positive perception. For those who say that Toyota’s image has slipped of late, most (55%) cited the decline in their reliability ratings as the primary reason. The remainder said it was primarily because Toyota’s environmental reputation had been diminished in their eyes by its promotion of bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles (25%), or its unwillingness to support the recently passed bill to raise CAFE standards (20%).

Meanwhile, GM’s image seems to be on the upswing, with 51% saying their perception of GM is more positive than a year ago. When asked to name their primary reason, 42% cited news of improved quality and reliability, 35% named their recent environmental commitment, and 23% said that it was simply a matter of GM offering better and more diverse vehicle offerings.

Mean, green or in between?

Shoppers were also asked whether they thought Toyota and GM, respectively, were: a) “mean” (i.e., associated with big, powerful vehicles), b) “green,” or c) “mean and green” (meaning associated with big, powerful vehicles and new fuel technologies). Although only 2% described GM as green and 53% described them as “mean,” 44% see them as both green and mean. A comparable 49% rated Toyota (the definitive green automaker) as both mean and green, although 45% still described them as primarily green and only 6% said they’re primarily “mean.” Toyota was also ranked by survey-takers as the most environmentally responsible car company, although GM was rated ahead of many automakers, including Ford and Chrysler.

What will it take to wean us from “mean?”

President Bush recently signed a law that each automaker’s fleet of passenger cars and light trucks must average 35 mpg by 2020. But, according to the polls, most shoppers seem to feel that the industry is headed in that direction anyway. When asked what it would take for Americans to give up speed, power and size in their vehicles, nearly half (48%) said people will make the shift to smaller, less powerful cars on their own, because of gas prices and political and environmental realities. On the other hand, 25% say drivers won’t make the shift until they’re forced to by law and penalties, and 27% feel that Americans will never completely sacrifice speed, power and size, which they feel is “just a part of our culture.”

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