Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Message to Washington and Detroit: 3 out of 4 Americans Want Higher Fuel Economy Standards

[From Green Car Congress:]

Fully 78% of Americans want Washington to impose a 40 mile per gallon (mpg) fuel-efficiency standard for American vehicles, according to a new Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) national opinion survey released by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI).

Ninety percent of Americans expect gas prices to rise again “in the near future,” with nearly half (46%) “definitely” expecting a resumption of higher fuel prices.

According to the survey, 70% of Americans say they are factoring “expected future gasoline price increases into consideration in thinking about buying a new vehicle.”Forty-five percent say they are now more likely to buy a “hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle” than they were six months ago, compared to 30% who are unchanged in their plans and 24% who are less likely to make such a vehicle purchase.

[Graphic: A majority of American's surveyed support increasing fuel-efficiency standards. Click to enlarge]

Pam Solo, Civil Society Institute President and Founder said:
"These findings should be a real wake-up call to any auto executive in Detroit who is hoping against hope that Americans will fall back in love with gas-hog vehicles. What Americans are saying to American carmakers is that they are ready for change. We know the technology exists for higher fuel efficiency that will save money, reduce this nation’s dependence on foreign oil and diminish the pollution linked to global warming. What Detroit needs to realize is that low gas prices have not—and will not—lead to the demise of the now very strong and continuing demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. If American carmakers make that wrong-headed gamble for a second time, it may just be the last losing bet they can afford to make."
Other results of the Opinion Research Corporation survey conducted for the Civil Society Institute include the following:

  • 76% think US automakers have been blind to US consumer needs and tastes;

  • 50% think that Japan is ahead of the US in hybrid or other fuel-efficient technologies, 36% think the countries are roughly equal and 6% think the US is ahead;

  • 85% support White House pressure on automakers for reducing “energy consumption and related global-warming pollution”;

  • 66% support Federal incentives for automakers in return for increasing investments in fuel-efficient technologies;

  • 90% want automakers to start selling more fuel-efficient vehicles that they make or sell overseas but do not offer in the US; and

  • 74% support federal gasoline taxes devoted to renewable energy R&D.

  • Results are based on telephone interviews conducted among a sample of 1,016 adults (509 men and 507 women) age 18 and over, living in private households, in the continental United States. Interviewing by ORC was completed during the period of November 9-12, 2006. Completed interviews of the 1,016 adults were weighted by four variables: age, sex, geographic region, and race, to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total adult population. The margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the sample of 1,016 adults. Smaller sub-groups will have larger error margins.

    CSI has conducted more than a dozen major surveys since 2003 on energy issues, including vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, global warming and renewables. CSI is the parent organization of 40mpg.org and the Hybrid Owners of America.

    Resources:

  • The U.S. Auto Industry, Washington and New Priorities: What Americans Think


  • I'm surprised to see such a strong response on this survey. Almost half (45%) "strongly agree" that fuel economy standards should be increased, and over 3/4s "somewhat or strongly agree." I hope that this message is recieved in Washington, as a gradual increase in fuel economy up to 40 mpg would do wonders for energy security, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and weening our economy off of our dependence on oil. It's a very doable goal as well.

    Of course, surveys are just surveys, and they are only as good as their questions. Americans continue to vote with their pocketbooks everyday by continueing to purchase the gas-guzzling SUVs, trucks and luxury sedans produced for the U.S. market. 40-mpg cars are out there right now - the Camry, Prius and Civic hybrids all top 40 mpg, and regular model Carollas, Civics and others get close, while several diesel models top approach or top 40 mpg.

    Still, what I imagine most people responding to the survey had in mind is that all vehicles, including the SUVs and luxury sedans many of them love, could get a boost in fuel economy, so that driving a more fuel efficient vehicle doesn't have to mean driving a compact car. Folks want their cake and want to eat it too.

    Of course, that goal isn't impossible. Hybridization of those beefy vehicles, light-weight chassis, improved aero-dynamics, reduced rolling-resistance tires, hydrogen-boost systems, continuously variable transmissions, etc. etc. etc. can all improve the fuel efficiency of even the largest cars, trucks and SUVs (for a bit of a premium, of course). The technologies are out there. Simply downsizing and de-powering the vehicle fleet would be a heck of a lot easier way to increase fleet fuel economy, but there are other ways as well.

    As I've argued before, we should use a reformed and increased CAFE standard, with a minimum fuel economy standard by weight class as well (to solve the 'buy a hybrid, sponsor a hummer' syndrome). We should increase the standard gradually (maybe by 3-5 mpg) every 3-4 years, as this is how long it takes to retool for a new vehicle model up to 40 mpg by 2020.

    The market can then decide how best to meet those targets. If consumers are willing to pay a premium to continue to buy large, higher performance vehicles, they can do so - they'll just have to buy SUVs and performance sedans that get 30+ mpg with hybrid drives, carbon-fiber chassis, etc. (the Escape and Accord hybrids do this already). If consumers decide they don't want to pay the extra price to keep their over-sized, over-powered vehicles, they can buy the smaller, more fuel-efficienct vehicles already popular throughout Europe and Japan. Ultimately, it will depend on consumer preference and the balance between performance, size and the price premium needed to achieve those qualities and meet the fuel efficiency standards.

    Meanwhile, we will double the average fuel economy of the light duty vehicle fleet, cutting in half the amount of oil used and greenhouse gas emissions emitted in the light vehicle sector. The public health and energy security benefits are clear, public support seems to be there (according to this survey at least), and the goals are feasible. It's time for a 40 mpg vehicle fleet.

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