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Survey: 74% Say Auto Companies Not Moving Fast Enough to Provide Fuel Efficiency

26 May 2006

Harris
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A new survey by Harris Interactive found that with high gas prices beginning to bite into consumers’ habits, three-quarters (74%) of adults polled say that American car companies are not moving as quickly as they should to build automobiles that consume less gasoline. Only 9% say the auto companies are moving as quickly as they should.

The survey found that 44% of car owners say they have cut back on products or services in order to compensate for the rising costs of gasoline.

Those with lower incomes are more likely than those with higher incomes to say they are cutting back, but even 37% of those car owners who earn $75,000 or more say they have cut back on products or spending. Specifically, 29% say they are dining out less; 29% are reducing their driving; and 24% are cutting back on groceries in order to pay for gasoline.

Two in five (39%) adults think that the profits of the oil and natural gas industry have the greatest influence on rising gas prices. Just over one-quarter (27%) say the greatest influence is from world crude oil prices; smaller numbers say it is due to instability in oil producing areas (7%) and federal and state taxes (6%).

Lingering refinery outages from last year’s hurricanes is cited by 5% as the greatest influence on rising prices, while upcoming changes in fuel requirements (2%) and other refining costs (2%) were also cited as having the greatest influence.

Regionally, those in the West are more likely to say industry profits are the greatest influence (47%) while those in the South are more likely to be split between profits (35%) and world crude prices (31%).

One-third (34%) of adults think the oil and gas industry can best stop the rising prices, while 29% believe the federal government has that ability. One in five (22%) think consumers can best stop rising gas prices while very small numbers say state and local governments (3%) or the automotive industry (3%) can stop the rise of gas prices.

Generationally, two in five (40%) Gen Xers (ages 30 – 41 years) think the oil and gas industry can stop the rising prices, followed by 27% who think the federal government can do so. Only 16% of Gen Xers say consumers have the control. Baby Boomers are more split. About one-third (32%) say the federal government can stop the rise in gasoline prices followed by the oil and gas industry (31%) and consumers (25%).

Three-quarters of adults think that gas prices will be higher on Labor Day than they are today. Almost one-third (31%) say that the prices will be much higher. Few (7%) say prices will be lower on Labor Day, while 17% say gas prices will be the same.

A large majority (81%) of adults also think that heating prices this winter will be higher when compared to those costs last winter. Over one-third (35%) say that heating costs will be much higher this winter; only 3% think costs will be lower and 15% say heating prices will be the same as last winter.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 9 and 16, 2006 among 2,085 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

May 26, 2006 in Fuel Efficiency, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack (1)

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Comments

and 100% say they would like a fying car, especially if it makes cute bubbling Jetsons noises.

all this demonstrates is that 74% of those surveyed ar ignorant of the reality that changes to vehicle fuel efficiency cannot be done overnight.

even the addition of a smaller engine option to a line of vehicles would probably take 18 months between crash testing, vehicle dynamics adjustments, and other regulatory barriers. and, in the end, the company would have to sell the vehicle for less than the models already on sale.

why would any company do this?

Shaun, car companies could see this coming for a long time. Anyone with a lick of sense knows that, at the very least, oil will get more expensive, even if they didn't believe it was causing climate change.

If it takes 18 months to get a more efficient model out, maybe they should have been working on them 18 months ago, and then they wouldn't look like they're sitting on their hands.

Icelander,
I will disagree, if you look at old projections of official government institutions, you will see that they did not projected rising fuel prices. As I remember even few years ago, they were projecting gas bellow $2 for next 20 years. So if auto executives thought that government is never wrong and that prices would be low for next few years they planned acordingly.
It was only so called green people that were predicting higher oil prices, and as you probably see auto executives don't listen to them.

What is interesting is that, due to importance of oil, there is a lot of info about production and consumption, capacities. If you don't look at official reports but instead look at the raw data (good source: http://omrpublic.iea.org/) it was easy too see that prices were going to rise and stay there. So people that made those projections in official gov. reports, are either really stupid( I doubt that) or have reasons for skewing those reports.

Last year early spring (prices were still little above $2) when I looked at that data from iea, I knew that I am going to see gas above $3 by the end of the summer. It was Economy 101, supply line was very close to demand line, big producers are running at almost 100% capacity, and demand is rising. Slight disruption and prices are going to rise. Simple as that.

Ignorance is a bliss so lets blame oil companies for gauging prices.
cheers

One more thing, since Avarage Joe can predict prices 6 months into future just by looking at raw data for few minutes, someone who is in business of oil, should be able to accuratly predict prices few years into a future.

I suspect car companies all over the world are working feverishly on models boasting improved fuel economy. The trouble, as Shaun points out, is that there are long lead times in powertrain R&D (18 months is actually optimistic).

A very big part of the lead time problem are the extremely strict and inflexible emissions regulations in the US. Due to bureaucratic turf wars, fuel economy is the preserve of the Dept of Transportation, whereas air quality is administered by the EPA and CARB. Other countries take into account what is and what is not technologically feasible, especially with regard to NOx.

The result: available fuel efficiency technolgies such as relatively clean diesel and stratified spray-guided GDI cannot be brought to market even in those states and counties where a mild increase in NOx levels for a number of years would not pose a significant health problem.

Meanwhile, marketers have to drum up demand for what is being produced today and basically keep schtumm about what's in the pipeline. In hindsight, US automakers in particular have allowed their small car business to wither on the vine for too long. However, it is virtually impossible to turn a profit on small cars at today's UAW labor rates. As for hybrids, even Toyota was surprised by their success in California and elsewhere.

Toyota and Honda took the long term approach and had hybrids out well before the price surges. Plenty of economical cars are available now (not just hybrids), but people want to drive their big cars and get great mileage too.

It would be nice if people would seek out high mpg cars independent of price, but it ain't gonna happen. All the more reason we should enact permanent higher gas taxes that keep the cost of gas high.

I bought a Civic Hybrid in 2002, not because of concerns about gas but because of what was obviously happening all around me, global warming.

If people step up to the plate and demand economy, they will get economy. I'm no fan of most of the auto companies, but we have met the enemy and he is us.

I find it interesting that 29% believe gas prices can be lowered by the federal government. I know that gas prices are rising because of demand and the new fuel laws. Why shouldn't the oil and gas companies make a profit? They have something we want. If we stopped buying it in massive amounts, they would be forced to cut prices, but we're still buying and so they're still selling.

"where a mild increase in NOx levels for a number of years would not pose a significant health problem."?

Raphael,
a "mild" increase would not pose a problem?
who are you lobbying for?

Even if you disregard all the costs/deaths associated with ozone alert days -NOx itself directly harms health. It reacts with moisture and other compounds to form nitric acid vapor and other harmful particles that are breathed deep into the lungs. NOx derived particles cause and worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease.

"As for hybrids, even Toyota was surprised by their success in California and elsewhere."

PS: it's called demographics and should not be surprising when studied

The UCS has had plans for an SUV that has lots of room, good performance and greater economy available for years.

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles/cars_pickups_suvs/building-a-better-suv.html

If the saying that Americans do not like small econoboxes is true, then they can have an SUV that has much better utility.

The classic econobox was the Chevette. Back in the 70s. I don't think the term "econobox" is appropriate for today's smaller cars. The civic and the Prius are a far cry from the cheap, poorly put together econoboxes of earlie eras. Besides, the Prius is a mid size car.

I hardly think you need to drive a small econobox to get good mileage. I drove my 2003 Passat 1.8 from Winston-Salem, NC to Arlington, VA yesterday and set the cruise at 65mph out of curiosity. 38.5 mpg is what I got, with the A/C on, in a roomy, comfortable car. Maybe 74% of Americans should stop blaming auto makers and instead look at what they choose to drive and how they choose to drive it. But, that's not as fun as blaming someone else...

Most disturbing fact from this poll: "Two in five (39%) adults think that the profits of the oil and natural gas industry have the greatest influence on rising gas prices." Again, let's blame a convenient target.

Fyi CO2 -

I realize that the US occupies more southerly latitudes than Europe, but it's not like people are dropping like flies over here just because our cars emit 2-3 times the NOx that cars in the US do. I suspect there are plenty of places in the US in which summer smog has never been a health problem on the scale of LA or New York. Besides, light duty vehicles are far from the only sources.

I'm not disputing that there are health costs associated with NOx. However, I reckon they pale in comparison with the cost - in lives as well as dollars - of waging war for all the extra oil required to meet those ueberstringent air quality standards.

All I'm saying is that if you want high fuel economy sooner rather than later, be aware that US emissions regs are effectively precluding the use of proven, affordable off-the-shelf lean-burn concepts such as modern turbodiesel engines (as opposed to the dross put out by Oldsmobile in the 80s). Meeting both emissions and fuel economy targets at the same time is extremely difficult and expensive to boot.

PS: Ferdinand Porsche built the first hybrid in 1900. It's not a new idea. Audi picked it up in the 90s but the technology was not sufficiently advanced to achieve success in the marketplace. Toyota was willing to let a small band of maverick engineers revive the idea yet again and run with it. Success in the home market in Japan was and remains limited. This dubious bet turned into marketing gold in the US only when CARB, faced with the commercial failure of EVs, decided to award credits to hybrids that could be counted toward the unchanged ZEV quotas. Toyota was in the right place at the right time, i.e. they had a lucky break after largely missing out on the SUV boom.

talk is cheap. When sales of SUVs and Trucks drop back to 10% of all motor vehicle sales, as they were before the 1990s, call me. Until then spare me the hot air.

This has been one of thebetter -- more rational, non-political, non-GM bashing discussions I have seen recently.

I find it interesting that consumers can be reasonably accurate about their expectations for gas prices, even when wildly naive about the cause. That may be due to the crazy excuses and predictions made by politicians and industry leaders who have their own axe to grind, or lack of sense.

The oil executives are not going to tell you that we can't produce more oil, nor are the Saudi's about to announce they are running out. That would not serve thier interests, and might set off a real panic. What I don't understand is how the oil industry and investment analysts come up with predictions of $40 bbl oil in the furture. As for the auto companies, the executives there are no different than any other company -- they get rewarded on short-term profits and stock prices, not managing the company for 50 year survival or saving the planet. We would like that but that is not reality.

These surveys are pretty limited, also. Obviously the poor people with limited incomes are spending less on something else if they are spending more on gas. I would be interested in some corroborating evidence as to what is being given up, though -- like are revenues down at restaurants? People will tell you anything.

I normally find your comments informed and balanced, Rafael, but some of these are a bit out of line.

> Due to bureaucratic turf wars, fuel economy is the
> preserve of the Dept of Transportation, whereas air
> quality is administered by the EPA and CARB. Other
> countries take into account what is and what is not
> technologically feasible, especially with regard to
> NOx.

The turf war comment is true and many ways, and yet totally irrelevant. There is a lot of complexities here, but auto companies have compliance divisions who's whole job is to figure this out. From a development perspective harmonization into one agency would have 0 effect -- there would still be various constituencies lobbying to meet conflicting requirements, and the laws coming out of this process would be convoluted, incomplete, and sometimes contradictory (like tax law, for instance).

The CARB / EPA split is an very interesting one in this context. There is no reason for the car companies to make two car versions and do two tests -- meeting the CARB standards would be sufficient. The car companies make two versions because they can save money on the 45 state version, and the companies mainly see low emissions as a compliance problem, not something they should deliver as part making good cars. Similarly, many of the Diesel cars sold in Europe could some over as 45 state cars (even without ULSD); only VW does this.

I'm also not sure about your achievable comment. Are you saying that current standards are not achievable, or that 'technology forcing' standards should never be used? This would be a huge loss for everyone; even the most famous 'failed' technology forcing standard, the CARB ZEV mandate, led to massive reductions in tailpipe pollution as car companies demonstrated that there were more cost-effective ways to reduce pollution than EV's. This is the type of failure we should have more often.

> where a mild increase in NOx levels for a number of
> years would not pose a significant health problem.

I believe you were talking about the fact that many air-quality regions are VOC limited? (most famously the LA basin, leading to the 'weekend effect') Although as Fyi CO2 noted the direct effects of NOx are worth considering, I think that you are more correct that starting with the overall biggest problem (ozone in most places) and working our way down in severity would be the most effective way to improve air quality. However, controlling car sales by air quality region would be even more difficult than controlling them by state -- we would be better off using stationary source control to 'tweak' the system.

> However, it is virtually impossible to turn a
> profit on small cars at today's UAW labor rates.

This is a total red herring. Although the American car companies have created some complex labor rate problems for themselves, this does not affect their mix of cars one bit. They have the ability to build cars themselves outside the US (my Focus was built in Mexico), they each have (or have had) Japanese or Korean subsidiaries that could build small cars for them, and VW has competed successfully in the US small car market despite having their own expensive labor problems.

As an example of this, the NUMMI factory in the middle of the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive regions of the world for anything. This factory makes Pontiac Vibes and Toyota Corollas on basically the same line, and yet the Corolla sells for a premium over the Vibe. Is this because of labor? I believe it is due to marketing, reputation management, and focus -- Toyota cares about these cars, GM doesn't.

> I'm not disputing that there are health costs
> associated with NOx. However, I reckon they pale in
> comparison with the cost - in lives as well as
> dollars - of waging war for all the extra oil
> required to meet those ueberstringent air quality
> standards.

This is again out of line. Air quality standards are not increasing the weight, power, or size of cars. These are the primary drivers of increased consumption.

> As for hybrids, even Toyota was surprised by their
> success in California and elsewhere.

I think this is an important point; Toyota was more lucky than insightful. However, half of luck is what you do with it. Toyota floundered unsuccessfully for 5-6 years to try to follow up the Prius, leaving the door wide open for competitors to come in and make their mark. No one did. I believe that Toyota has found its footing again with the Camry, and that this will firmly slam the door shut (this is certainly not a unique prediction of course).

> Ferdinand Porsche built the first hybrid in 1900.
> It's not a new idea. Audi picked it up in the 90s but
> the technology was not sufficiently advanced to
> achieve success in the marketplace. ... This dubious
> bet turned into marketing gold in the US only when
> CARB, faced with the commercial failure of EVs,
> decided to award credits to hybrids that could be
> counted toward the unchanged ZEV quotas.

This is an odd point to make. Plenty of companies tried to make hybrids and failed, but this does not denigrate Toyota's achievement, it increases it. Their success also didn't come from meeting ZEV quotas (conventional SULEV cars can do this), it came from filling a massive unmet demand which allowed them to sell lots of cars despite a relatively premium price.

I find it odd & frightening that drivers will do anything to put up with the "high" cost of gas EXCEPT really changing their driving habits! "Yea, we'll just go out to dinner less rather than slow down on the freeway, or not tromp on the gas pedal when the light turns green". From what I see, the price has had zero effect on drivers, witnesed a couple of cars peeling out of the gas station the other day, ironically enough.

Actually, I should point out one glitch: Gen-X is not merely the 30-41 year olds. The traditional timeframe for their birth is 1961-1981 so that would include everyone 25-45.

That being said, it's not going to happen overnight. It will take time to properly develop more efficient powertrains for vehicles given the time, money, and research needed to make proper prototypes, test them, and then make sure they meet all necessary regulations before releasing them to the general public.

ULSD is finally supposed to be making it to retail pumps this week? The rap on NOx emissions/diesels is overstated when every other standard is achieved by a wide margin...and the 30%+ economy gain is real. Also off-road diesel is going from 2000+ppm to 500 so watch and see.

The Major car companies HAVE made prototypes of very efficient cars, including hybrids. They just have to get off their high horse and start producing them. Car companies can make a car in 18 months. They have them already tested and ready to go. They just need to do it and stop procrastinating!!!!!

look at that car built 1959 that in 1975 guiness book of world records got over 300 mpg and that was over 30 years ago the fact that the car companies have had prototypes of high efficient fuel cars handed to them over and over and continued to pump out gas guzzlers should be investigated I am quite sure there is some kind of link with the oil companies giving kick backs for making gas guzzlers

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