Why Are So Many Consumers Hypocrites About Fuel Economy?

I always take polls with a grain of salt.  Still, this one astounded me.   Consumerist reported that 87% of Americans surveyed think that automakers should do more to improve fuel economy.  The first thought that crossed through my mind when I read this was “Hypocrites!”

All For Increased Fuel Economy

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for better fuel economy.  I’ve been driving for about 25 years now (Yikes!) and the advancements in fuel technology have been remarkable. I know that even before that things came a long way from the fuel guzzlers of the past.

Image via Morguefile courtesy of gracey

I think many of the technologies are great.  Automakers build better engines.  They use lighter materials.  They make things run more efficiently.  Aerodynamics are improved.  It all works together so that vehicles use less fuel.

It’s pretty cool.  And I have no doubt that the innovations will continue.

So why am I shaking my head?  Read on.

How Some Consumers Are Hypocrites

As I mentioned above, I’ve been driving for 25 years.  With the exception of one period when we hit gas prices around $3-$4 per gallon, Americans keep drifting more toward SUVs and trucks, and away from cars.

Chevrolet really improved the Malibu and yet sales continue to drop year over year.  Ford never even considered building their latest Focus here, instead deciding between Mexico and China for production.

The bottom line, people keep gravitating away from cars and into bigger vehicles.  Ones that, of course, get a lot worse fuel economy.

It makes me wonder, how many people that responded to this survey have moved up to a bigger SUV or truck recently?  Guessing by the numbers, it would seem an awful lot.  I think that’s somewhat hypocritical.

These people are basically putting 100% of the responsibility on the automakers, and none on the consumer.

That’s just a bit head shaking to me.

Consumers Have Responsibility, Don’t They?

It seems that if consumers continue to choose bigger and bigger automobiles instead of smaller, more fuel efficient choices, that they hold some responsibility here.  The average fuel economy would be a lot higher if even 10% of the people that chose SUVs chose a passenger car instead.  It seems to me that right there would go a long way toward improving fuel economy.

I get that a lot of people have legitimate reasons for moving to a bigger vehicle.  I’m not saying there isn’t a need.  Heck, I’m one of them as I got a bigger truck since we tow our RV.  But, I knew going in that I was decreasing my personal fuel economy.  And, if I’d been one of those surveyed, I’d have definitely not put 100% of the responsibility at the feet of the automakers.

A little self awareness goes a long way, don’t you think?

Readers, what do you think about the survey results?  Do you agree that some people are a bit hypocritical or is there an angle I’m missing?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

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15 thoughts on “Why Are So Many Consumers Hypocrites About Fuel Economy?

  1. Definitely a double edged sword here. Sure, autom makers should focus on continuing to improve their product otherwise they wouldn’t make money. On the other side, consumers are the ones who make the choices. If you want better fuel economy, then buy a car that gets good gas mileage.

    We as consumers need to do a better job of continuing to tell companies want we want and need out of the technology they develop, that’s how stuff gets done. Additionally, we need to continue investing in companies that change the game, like Tesla, to drive down costs so they’re options for more people.
    Lance @ My Strategic Dollar recently posted..Book Review: The Coffeehouse InvestorMy Profile

    • Very true. I’ve always had a bit of a bias against Tesla for reasons that go beyond anything in this article, so I wouldn’t support them specfically, but I definitely agree with your overall point.

  2. I don’t think it’s hypocritical for consumers to buy the cars they need- some families simply can’t get by with a smaller more fuel efficient car. There’s a lot of money to be made for the company who can really innovate and come out with a fuel efficient truck. Some hybrids on the market get up to 20 mpg, but I think that manufacturers are just starting to get a sense that hybrid/electric vehicles don’t all need to be these little clown cars.

    Is it 100% of the manufacturers? No. But until there’s a reasonable option for consumers who truly need a bigger vehicle, it’s not fair to call them hypocrites.

    • I totally agree that if you need a bigger automobile, it makes perfect sense to get one. Where I’m going with this is the percentage of people who got 22 MPG in their old passenger car but now get an SUV that also gets 22 MPG, instead of getting a different passenger car that can now get 32 MPG. There are a lot of people tootling around in SUVs that don’t have a large family or haul things around. Some (not all) of that group is who I would target as potentially hypocritical.

  3. Well… Check out this page: insurance industry figures that seem to indicate larger vehicles are significantly safer: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/50/1/1

    This is THE specific reason I continue to drive a substantial vehicle even though I no longer need room for two 80-pound dogs: I want two layers of steel (welll…okay…plastic) between me and my fellow homicidal drivers.

    Now that the rollover issue has been addressed, SUV occupants are less likely to be killed in a wreck than those inside smaller vehicles. It sez here:

    “The list of models with the lowest death rates illustrates just how much vehicles have improved. Eight years ago, there were no models with driver death rates of zero (see Status Report special issue: driver death rates, April 19, 2007). Now there are nine. These vehicles — which include several luxury models but also some less expensive ones such as the Kia Sorento midsize SUV and the Subaru Legacy sedan — had no driver deaths during the calendar years studied. . . . One striking thing about the group of zero-death vehicles — aside from the sheer number — is that two-thirds of them are SUVs.

    A decade ago, SUVs had some of the highest rates, due to their propensity to roll over (see Status Report special issue: driver death rates, March 19, 2005). However, the spread of electronic stability control (ESC) through the fleet has dramatically lessened the risk of rollover crashes in these and all vehicles. The rollover death rate of 5 per million registered vehicle years for 2011 models is less than a quarter of what it was for 2004 models.

    “With ESC dramatically reducing rollover risk, the inherent advantages offered by SUVs’ greater size, weight and height emerge more clearly. Today’s SUVs have the lowest driver death rate of any vehicle type.”

    • It’s interesting because personal observation shows that many people seem to go for the bigger vehicles because of the safety issues, but then themselves drive more unsafely figuring the barrier will protect them. I mean, while I see it sometimes from smaller cars, the darting in and out of lanes, tailgating, and jackrabbit starts and stopping seems more common in drivers of bigger vehicles.

      • Yes, I have to agree: you’re right about that. I personally am an aggressive driver — although I don’t tailgate and I don’t jerk from lane to lane. I do hold my own, and in Arizona that means no sissies allowed. 😉

        But seriously: that’s why I drive a six-banger. I feel I need the power to get out of dangerous situations. There _are_ times when speed is called for. It would be wonderful if that were not the case…but as long as our fellow homicidal drivers are human, I’m afraid we’ll need solid vehicles with powerful engines.

  4. Thank you for this timely blog….Back in the day when dinos roamed the earth in 1984 I bought a Mazda DIESEL pick up truck for $6K BRAND NEW….the truck was supposed to get 42 miles to the gallon……I regularly got more….once 54. How disappointing it is that there appears to be no improvements in 33 years. One would think that we would be getting 100 miles to the gallon with lighter materials used today. And like you I find it a bit absurd when I watch folks in my ‘hood driving HUGE SUV’s with big price tags getting 10-15 miles per gallon…I spoke to a young lady at the gas station who was filling her Chevy Suburban and listened as she complained about gas prices ($2.19)…her bill was over $60…When I asked if she has a large family….She shared that she doesn’t have kids…boats or travel trailers…She just wanted it! The crazy thing to me is these “desireable SUV’s” go for $50-70K…Hypocrites indeed….

      • I wonder if that’s true. Hmmm….. My new(ish) Venza has a lot of blandishments the ancient Sienna didn’t have and that I could somehow stumble along without: the automatically locking doors (turn the key and the doors lock), the (weird) remote back gate opener motor and …weirdness, the sensors that tell you (or tell something) what you’re up to, the insane back-up camera thingie, and more computers than a college classroom contains. Yeah, I can imagine that taken all together, all the gear has GOTTA add weight.
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  5. I thought you were going to say “SLOW DOWN!” 🙂 I know that the difference in driving 70 MPH (highway speed limits here) and 80 MPH is about 20% difference in MPG. I often complain (mostly to myself) that I wish I could get more than 20 MPG like one of the newer cars. Well… I CAN if I really wanted to. I would drive slower and fairly easily get around 25 MPG. Perhaps more if I paid better attention to how I’m accelerating and such. Yes. I’m a big hypocritical on this point… just from a different perspective.
    Brad – MaximizeYourMoney.com recently posted..Personal budget percentages: Here’s where our money goesMy Profile

    • They keep raising the speed limit (75MPH in many areas of the state now) and I keep thinking how unnecessary it is. If you really look at the difference between 70 and 75, the amount of savings in your trip time is really quite small for trips under a few hours. And when you’re talking the trips around town where people are driving like fools, they might save a few seconds when it’s all said and done. And at what cost in mileage?

  6. I think people want car manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency not because they are concerned about the environment but because they want to be able to drive behemoth road machines. If all cars become more fuel efficient that would include the SUVs and trucks they want to drive. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Also, some people just become mesmerized by driving big vehicles. A few years ago a coworker of mine went to trade in his Chevy Blazer. He told me he was going to get a sedan because he was sick of paying so much to gas up his SUV. What did he come to work in the next day? An H2. He ended up with something even less efficient because the salesman convinced him to take a test drive and then he just couldn’t resist.
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