“Utter market failure.” That’s how Mark Cooper, research director for the consumer advocacy group Consumer Federation of America describes the U.S. vehicle supply. For the 2010 model year, just 44 models (4 percent of all EPA-rated vehicles for the year) get 30 MPG or more, despite widespread consumer interest in more fuel efficient vehicles, according to a new survey conducted this month and released today from the group.
Published just days ahead of the deadline for public comments on tighter fuel economy standards, the CFA survey finds 78 percent of Americans support raising the bar to 35 MPG by 2016 (up from 25 MPG today) for the average MPG of an automaker’s fleet, as the Obama administration has proposed.
Go ahead with stricter standards, CFA’s survey respondents (which included 1,000 people) seem to suggest, but then open the information floodgates to let me make my own decisions. Support for “workplace programs that discourage driving alone to work,” and “feebate” programs that would offer rebates to buyers of fuel-sippers while putting a surcharge on gas guzzlers was underwhelming in the survey, with more than half of respondents opposing the ideas. But a whopping 80 percent say they support a requirement for auto companies to include MPG ratings in all TV and print ads for new vehicles, and 75 percent want to see in-dash MPG gauges.
Whether car buyers would be willing to pay a premium for these features or higher-efficiency vehicles, CFA has not explained. But drivers who want those tools have a growing number of low-cost options available via smartphone apps that build upon or mimick newer in-car displays (helping drivers track fuel consumption and save money on gas, for example). And as CalCars.org founder Felix Kramer noted to us recently, after-market options include “relatively cheap add-on for all vehicles” that can boost MPGs.
To address what the group sees as disparity between strong consumer interest in higher-efficiency vehicles and the relatively small number of high-MPG cars in the pipeline for next year (especially from U.S.-based car companies), CFA urges the Obama administration to put the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of setting fuel economy standards at 45 MPG or better by 2020, and “much higher levels in the future.”