A series of surveys by Maritz Research’s Automotive Research Group (ARG) finds that increases in gas prices are affecting all aspects of consumers’ behavior as it relates to their vehicles, including changing driving habits and vehicle purchase/maintenance decisions.
In relation to the increase in gas prices over the past year, significantly more people said they are reducing unnecessary driving (79% in 2005, compared to 65% in 2004), not going on long trips or vacations (52% in 2005 to 39% in 2004) and driving more conservatively (73% in 2005 to 63% in 2004) this year, compared to 2004.
Furthermore, two-thirds of the respondents said that gas prices have had an effect on the size of vehicle they think about buying. Nearly half (45%) agreed with the statement, “I think about buying or have bought a smaller vehicle.”
Although trucks still make up more than 50% of new sales, the trend is moving toward smaller vehicles within a purchase class (i.e. from a large SUV to a medium SUV, from a medium SUV to a small SUV) rather than a major shift to cars.
Regarding vehicle consideration, the segments predicted to suffer the largest losses were full-sized vans, full-sized pickups and medium-sized cars. The winners were small SUVs and compact pickup trucks.
Now that gas prices are spiking up to $3 and beyond, as opposed to the gradual increases of last year and earlier this year, a recent trend has some Americans ending their SUV love affairs.
However, as the initial shock of the highest gas prices in many consumers' lifetimes wears off, I suspect we could see small SUVs and light pickup trucks win the popularity race.—David Ensing, Ph.D., director R&D, ARG
The Maritz surveys also reveal what price points would determine changes in driving habits and vehicle choices.
More than 94% of consumers stated an intention to drive less when gas prices reach $2.76 per gallon
85% stated they would think about purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle at $2.75 per gallon;
93% would shop for a more fuel-efficient vehicle as soon as possible at $3.22 per gallon.
However, 59% of respondents said they would not consider buying a diesel vehicle. Maritz also asked about the appeal of various other powertrain types and, while 27% did not state a preference, hybrids were mentioned the most (24%) followed by fuel cells (12%). Gas blends (10%) and diesel (7%) were the next most appealing choices for alternatives to gasoline in the minds of consumers.
Apparently biodiesel was not called out as a discrete option.
Maritz’ Automotive Research Group conducted three surveys examining the effect gas prices have on the way Americans are using their vehicles and the vehicles they are considering for purchase. In August 2005, 1,009 adult owners and drivers of vehicles were surveyed in an online Maritz Poll. The results were compared to a similar Maritz Poll of 1,014 adult owners and drivers of vehicles conducted in August 2004. Also, in a separate February 2005 study, 39,000 consumers who had purchased new cars in the past 90 days responded to questions regarding their perceptions of gasoline prices. The U.S. average price for regular gasoline in August 2004 and 2005, respectively, was $1.85 per gallon and $2.58 per gallon.
Car Buyer’s Notebook has a roundup of gas-price related stories here.