Survey Finds Most Buyers Won’t Downsize With Next Vehicle Purchase. Trouble for Automakers facing 35.5 mpg CAFE?

Most car buyers – 56% – expect their next new vehicle to be the same size as the model they currently drive, according to a national representative survey of adult vehicle owners in the U.S.

Those who are looking to downsize – 25% – are looking for improved fuel economy, lower maintenance and repair costs, and improved reliability, according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Offsetting the downsizing trend are 19% of respondents who said they plan to buy a larger vehicle. How this all sorts out in the marketplace is a complicated issue for automakers, who need to average 35.5 mpg by 2016, with cars needing to average 42 mpg.

Older buyers and Northeast residents, where gas prices are higher than in much of the country,  are more likely to buy the same size. Those drivers aged 18-34 years are more likely to upsize.

“Despite the common drive to reduce car-operating costs, not everyone wants to downsize. Many young drivers have older vehicles, and as their careers grow, there is a natural ambition to have a new or newer car that is more comfortable and reliable—often that means stepping up from a small car to a midsized sedan or other vehicle This younger demographic may also be in their family-starting years, and likely in need for more passenger space,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy online editor, Consumer Reports Cars.

Reasons for downsizing include: Improved fuel economy (92%); Lower maintenance and repair costs (71%); Environmental concerns (67%); Improved reliability (67%); Lower purchase price (65%); Don’t need the passenger / cargo space (61%); and Improved safety (59%); Don’t need as much power (54%).

Reasons for upsizing include: Need more passenger / cargo space (80%); Improved comfort (72%); Improved safety (66%); More reliable (60%); Improved fuel economy (55%); and Lower maintenance and repair costs (50%).

CR also found that more women (26%) than men (18%) drive a small car, while more men (22%) than women (6%) drive pickup trucks.

On average, drivers said they get 23.0 miles per gallon in their current vehicle, with most (77%) falling in the 15-34 mpg range. When asked about their expectations for their next ride, the median fuel efficiency was 29 mpg – a 6 mpg improvement. Those under age 35 were more optimistic.

“Clearly, the economy and fuel prices are influencing buying trends. Should either change dramatically, more significant changes are likely. For now, our random panel shows a slight shift toward small cars and small SUVs,” Bartlett said.

Planned Purchases by Vehicle Type
Car type Now % Next % ∆ %
Small car 22 26 +3.6
Small SUV 9 12 +2.7
Sporty car 3 5 +1.4
Midsize SUV 11 11 0.0
Convertible 1 0 -0.1
Large SUV 5 5 -0.2
Wagon 3 2 -1.1
Pickup 14 12 -2.1
Minivan 10 6 -3.6
Sedan 21 16 -5.7
Courtesy Consumer Reports

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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