|Rising fuel demand is pushing demand for smaller cars. Source: GfK. Click to enlarge.|
Responding to high fuel prices, US consumers are increasingly looking for more cost-effective and fuel-efficient vehicles, with compact cars rapidly gaining in demand. However, researchers from GfK Custom Research North America’s Automotive sector found that, while demand for compact cars is high, that same demand doesn’t carry over into smaller sub-compact cars or Alternative Energy Vehicles (AEVs), including hybrid and electric vehicles.
In May, 2011, compact car accounted for 18.1% of six-month light vehicle demand compared to 3.6% for subcompact cars. AEVs demand currently represents 9.4% of light vehicle demand. Demand, as opposed to sales, is what GfK considers “free demand”, said Doug Scott, senior vice president, consulting, GfK Automotive.
All things being equal, that’s the level of interest (specific handraisers) for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric Cars whether on the market today or potentially coming on the market in the nearer-term, etc. It likely has some longer-term (12-24 months) people are in there too who are “pulled ahead” because of all the PR out there today and the volatile gas prices. All the PR from the many manufacturers about how they are tooling up for entry into the environmental market also stimulates demand.—Doug Scott
|Compact are benefitting from the shift, sub-compacts are not. Source: GfK. Click to enlarge.|
GfK’s Automotive Intentions and Purchases Study found a strong relationship between surges in gas prices over the past four years and increases in demand for sub-compact and compact vehicles. GfK’s researchers also find that AEV demand is hindered by three major obstacles: lower familiarity, higher purchase prices, and lack of convenience.
The average consumer looking to purchase a new vehicle, especially during these times of rising gas prices, sees more value in smaller vehicles with traditional gas engines—some of which approach 40 mpg—rather than hybrids or even electric vehicles, said Scott.
However, while consumers are looking at smaller vehicles due to high gas prices, they aren’t willing to go all the way down to a subcompact car. Consumers are discovering that newer compact cars offer the comfort features before only reserved to larger cars, combined with the fuel economy that was only available in much smaller cars.
There are certain emotional benefits that AEV drivers feel that automakers need to communicate to a wider audience of potential customers. The feeling of pride associated with owning a vehicle that is environmentally friendly has resonated with consumers inclined towards “green” behaviors, and automakers must develop their marketing strategies to communicate both the tangible benefits, while also addressing the obstacles consumers face with purchasing AEVs.—Doug Scott
Established in the early 1980s, the GfK Automotive Intentions and Purchases Study (AIP) is a monthly and quarterly tracking study that monitors consumer demand for new cars and trucks in the US market. The AIP Study is continuously in the field, using a blended panel of online sample sources. GfK receives approximately 200,000 completed surveys each quarter, which includes 90,000 new vehicle intenders. The AIP Study has been conducted continuously since 1982.