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Survey: 3 Out of 4 Americans Want Detroit and Washington to Impose 40 MPG Fuel-Efficiency Standard

Support for increasing fuel-efficiency standards. Click to enlarge.

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.

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.

—Pam Solo, Civil Society Institute President and Founder

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 and the Hybrid Owners of America.




I really doubt 3 out of 4 Americans would still want the 40mpg mandate if they found out they have to give up their SUVs, V8s, luxury cars, 0-60 in 5 seconds, pickup trucks etc... etc... etc...

I'm sorry but this is BS statistics.


If you want to increase fuel economy, tax gasoline into oblivion. Fuel economy standards never work. They are just feel good laws so politicians can show that they are doing something about it. Automakers always find away around CAFE. Taxing fuel is the big stinker that no American politician would touch with a 10 foot pole because they know its suicide.


I think they talked to the same 78% of Americans who think Elvis is actually alive and working on a road crew in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

kent beuchert

46% of the public also believes that the US president has the power to set crude oil prices amd 80% or more think we have been visited by aliens and that there is proof. I consider the public idiots and surveys writen in a way to produce the results that their sponsors want. It's long been known that simply rewording aquestion can produce exactly the opposite results.
I would love to hear these respondents explain just how automakers are going to magically produce 40 MPG wonders that the public will buy. If all these people want 40MPG vehicles, how come no one is buying them now? According to this survey, no automaker should be able to give away
a pickup truck or full sized SUV these days. When will these "Greenies" ever learn that half measures like conservation and enforced fuel mileages are nothing more than drops in the bucket that never accomplish squat.


Considering the fact that 30-40 mpg vehicles are already well represented in the market (think Corolla, Prius, Hybrid Escape, etc.) I tend to agree that the preferences expressed in this survery are "fantasyland" ones -- performance, size and price the same, we'd all prefer 40 mpg to 20 mpg. But given the sacrifices needed to acheive 40 mpg in the real world... well... I'd say that the American consumer has already voted with his wallet.

The only possible other explanation is that people are hoping to end the "arms race," in which consumers feel they need bigger and faster cars to either keep up with the joneses on status, or keep up from a safety perspective -- i.e. "I'd love to drive a Smart, but I'm worried that with all these giant SUVs around, I'd get flattened in case of an accident." If rigorous fuel economy standards are mandated, SUVs will dwindle and crash compatibility will increase, making drivers less scared to drive the small cars they'd otherwise be happy to drive.


Theres a little book called:


This survey uses every trick in the book. Surveys like this really don't help anyone. It just hurts our credibility.


Now would that be 40MPG as measured by the EPA (Economic Protection Agency formerly known as the Environmental Protection Agency)?

And, anyway isn't it a moot question? What the American People want (whoever They are) does not matter, it is what are duly bought representatives decide.


46% of the public also believes that the US president has the power to set crude oil prices

The president has no power to influence oil prices? Is that your position?


But given the sacrifices needed to acheive 40 mpg in the real world... well... I'd say that the American consumer has already voted with his wallet.

The Camry Hybrid hits 40 mpg -- with 190 hp, ample room, and a middle-of-the-road price -- all in a quality, proven vehicle.

40 MPG is a very timid target.


When will these "Greenies" ever learn that half measures like conservation and enforced fuel mileages are nothing more than drops in the bucket that never accomplish squat.

Why do you come to a website called GREEN Car Congress and insult "greenies"?


I just don't believe this survey. I'm quite sure that 3 out of 4 americans would say 'yes, that would be nice. If we could get 40 mpg out of our cars. And yes, it should be possible with today's technology.'

But if you turned around and asked them what kind of car they drove and what their mileage was???

durka durka

"Why do you come to a website called GREEN Car Congress and insult "greenies"?"

Why don't you face reality. Or do you prefer living in your own delusional fantasy land by only talking to the people that agree with you?

Rafael Seidl

Mike -

the "according" link points to the press release for what appears to be a separate survey conducted in Massachusetts only back in June.

Wrt the results of the present survey, I'm heartened to learn that so many Americans appear to have drawn conclusions that make sense in both energy security and climate change terms. However, I'm a little skeptical as well, because the numbers appear almost too good: did the participants really reflect a true cross-section of the US population? Were the questions in any way leading?

Moreover, survey respondents often don't realize the full implications of their statements. If all new cars on the market delivered 40+ MPG today, the resale value of the vehicle they already own would nosedive. Trading it in for one of the new models would be not just a step back to a smaller, less comfortable vehicle. It would also be quite expensive.

Unless the Democrats decide to jettison CAFE altogether in favor of higher fuel taxes, a sensible approach would be to raise the fleet average fuel economy slowly, predictably but irreversibly. Start with 25, then 30, then 35 etc. with 3 years in-between each step because that's how long it takes to revise a vehicle model. In addition, define a new per-vehicle minimum roughly 5MPG below the new mandated average. This forces carmakers to improve the fuel economy of their highest-margin vehicles first, allowing the technology to trickle down to the high-volume models a generation later. If you push too far too fast, the domestic auto industry will be successful in killing any legislation related to increasing mandatory fuel economy.

On a parallel track, manufacturers of automotive fuels and lubricants would have to support this transition to higher fuel economy, which implies lower sales volume for them. Since turkeys don't vote for Christmas, this inevitably leads to premium products that make up the difference via higher margins. Examples include standardized biofuel and xTL designer fuel blends plus synthetic engine oils, all of which must be compatible with modern exhaust gas aftertreatment technologies as well as legacy vehicles still on the road. Again, this takes considerable time. Try to push too far too fast and the lobby will be successful in killing the legislation.

On the upside, reduced demand volume would mean the US would no longer be constrained on refinery capacity in summer. It should no longer be necessary to import expensive finished gasoline from Europe and elsewhere to make up the difference.

A second critical factor for success is that lawmakers must leave it up to these industries HOW they achieve the policy goals. US politicians in particular always appear eager to push the sexy technology du jour (presumably with campaign contributions attached) instead of articulating the desired macroscopic outcome.


Thanks, Rafael. Fixed.


The fact is that almost all Europeans think Americans are stupid.

I also live in E.U. and when me and my friends meet in the pub to drink 5 to 10 beers we often talk about whose car "drinks" less. And that IS a big difference between Europeans and Americans.


Why don't you face reality. Or do you prefer living in your own delusional fantasy land by only talking to the people that agree with you?

Posted by: durka durka | Nov 21, 2006 12:09:47 PM

Oh, you're trolling? My bad. I thought you were here to discuss the topic at hand seriously.

That "durka durka" line is funny, though - straight from "Team America: World Police".


Pizmo --

The Camry hybrid is out, and the Prius has been out for years. And non-hybrid high-mileage cars have been around for longer. While hybrids are gaining traction (they allow us to eat our cake and have it too, to an extent, when it comes to trading off mileage and size/performance), the fact still remains that high-mileage vehicles make up a very small proportion of new car sales, and a vanishingly small proportion of the entire active fleet. Americans have voted and continue to vote with their wallets, in addition to their ballots, and our current total automotive insfrastructure is the result. Pointing to new models that sell in the dozens of units per month (Camry hybrid) hardly changes that.

That doesn't mean that the future has to stay the same, or that these survey results don't reflect optimism about gains in future technology. But they hardly seem to reflect a sober and rational response to the entirety of what it means to shift to 40 mpg under the current circumstances.


I don't doubt that the survey is correct; however, 40mpg vehicles are available now and the vast majority of the American public has no intention of trading in their SUVs for these vehicles. No doubt, they think SUVs should be required to get 40 mpg. But that's the point they want to give up nothing to get something. And they would prefer to blame the automakers for forcing them to drive low mpg vehicles.

Having said all that, I think higher CAFE standards will have a minimal impact on overall gas consumption and global warming. Even if we could drive up the mpg of new cars, that still leaves the vast majority of cars on the road with low gas mileage. The process of replacing all those cars with new higher mpg cars is simply too slow to have much impact.

A more effective approach is to make the ownership of existing low mpg vehicles intolerable to speed up the process of replacing those vehicles with higher mpg vehicles and getting people to drive less.

CAFE, while not harmful, simply will not get the job done in anything less than at least a decade. We don't have the luxury of maintaining the status quo for that length of time. Institute higher gas taxes that work their way up to $10 per gallon and/or institute gas rationing with tradeable gas coupons. The frugal will be rewarded two ways; they won't be spending as much on gas and they can make money trading their gas coupons.


Hey, troll: Next time you fill up your gas hog, remember: Usama thanks you and hopes you come back soon for more.

Durka that.


Gasoline rationing - NOW!


Skrivo: I'm not American but I can tell you Europeans aren't any smarter. They've just grown up in a land that has very little oil of its own and streets that are so narrow only a bicycle will fit. They also live in towns that were designed before the automobile was even invented. Don't confuse history and necessity with intelligence. I'll stay off the topic of pomposity, arrogance and Euro-snobbery.

fyi CO2

Kent & durka durka are fine examples of why external costs a la carbon tax need to be phased in over time.


Setting worldwide crude oil prices and "influencing" them are vastly different.

You could blow up a pipeline from a major producer (example: Nigeria & their rebel problems) and influence the price. No one person in the world can "SET" the price.

Roger Pham

I think that 3/4 of the American public really meant is to have large cars and SUV's that are capable of 40 mpg. Large car is synonymous with America. Small cars would be considered un-American. Hopefully technology will eventually deliver 40-mpg-6000-lb SUV's. Meanwhile, all automotive engineers: full throttle ahead. Y'all have got a lot of work to do!


By the time 40mpg is available for large and powerful SUVs, if ever, we will want even more powerful and larger SUVs. The problem is not the technology; the problem is that Americans raise the bar every time the technology is improved. This is a treadmill and we will never get to decent gas mileage.


One other thought. The auto companies should welcome a cap on available gasoline and/or higher gas prices because this will increase turnover. As long as they have to guess what oil prices will do, they will go back and forth between higher mpg vehicles and lower mpg vehicles.

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