Poll: With gas prices high, Americans want 60 m.p.g. fuel efficiency

A new poll suggests that a majority of Americans – both Democrats and Republicans – support a plan to almost double federal fuel-efficiency standards for automakers by 2025. High gas prices are seen as being behind the trend.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer/file
Gas prices are shown at a gas station May 2 in Portland, Ore. The high gas prices nationwide could be increasing calls for improved fuel efficiency, a new poll shows.

As gas prices across the US hover near $4 a gallon, a new survey finds a majority of Americans support requiring automakers to meet a 60-mile-per-gallon standard by 2025.

The findings come as the Obama administration is expected to propose new fuel-efficiency regulations in September. Environmental groups say a 60 m.p.g. standard would save US drivers $101 billion per year. In 2009, the administration set the standard for light cars and trucks to 35.5 m.p.g. by 2016.

The nationwide survey of 2,000 adults was released Monday and commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a left-leaning nonprofit. It found that 75 percent of Americans say improving fuel economy standards is important. Sixty-two percent supported federal regulation requiring automakers to meet 60 m.p.g. standards by 2025.

A majority of people across the political spectrum supported such a measure, especially if fuel savings would negate the extra cost of a fuel efficient car within five years of purchase. Sixty-two percent of Republicans were in favor of a 60 m.p.g. standard, and 71 percent of Democrats supported the measure. Independents were the least supportive, with 56 percent favoring the measure.

Economic, not environmental, concerns seem to be driving attitudes about improved fuel economy, with gas prices averaging $3.81 per gallon in May, according to AAA.

Gas prices are the main driver of smaller vehicle or more fuel-efficient vehicle purchases,” says Camyrn Craig, a research analyst at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks car sales. Her company found that gas mileage was a consideration for 84 percent of car buyers in April.

Kelley Blue Book research shows that when gas prices are between $3.07 and $3.41 per gallon, the majority of consumers do not rank gas mileage as a key consideration when purchasing a car.

“At $4.00, 70 percent said it would be a consideration,” says Ms. Craig. “At $5.00, 92 percent said it would be a consideration.”

A study by Consumer Reports magazine released in February found the financial savings for buying a hybrid to be mixed.

The Toyota Prius fared best, with its $5,000 higher price tag easily outstripped by fuel savings in the first five years. Other cars made up the extra cost, but only if gas prices are moderately high. For the Ford Escape hybrid to make up its higher cost in five years, gas would need to be at least $3.60 a gallon. Still others don’t fare well at all. The hybrid version of the Lexus RX would require a gas price of at least $8.77 a gallon.

For those concerned with pollution, fuel efficient cars are a good bet, say environmentalists, as long as you aren’t ditching a reliable vehicle to buy one.

In “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything,” emissions expert Mike Berners-Lee advises people to stick with the cars they’ve got for as long as they can, as long as their cars are reliable and don’t get “ridiculously poor” gas mileage. This is because the carbon footprint of manufacturing a car is bigger than driving a somewhat less fuel-efficient one, he argues.

After the Obama administration proposes new fuel-economy regulations this fall, the public will be able to comment on the plan for several months. The administration's 35.5 m.p.g. standard was based on the standard developed by California and later adopted by 13 other states.

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