Back in the Mad Men era, “Safety Doesn’t Sell” was a widely-accepted axiom about automobile advertising. A few decades later, conventional wisdom has shifted 180 degrees: Seat belts, air bags and other safety features now a prominent feature of many car and truck ads.
Now, new numbers are in which should lay another old saw to rest: That U.S. car buyers are more concerned with muscle than mileage.
A widely-reported April survey by the Consumer Reports (CR) National Research Center shows that fuel economy is the number one factor when considering a car purchase. It’s not even close: MPG is more than twice as important as anything else, including quality, safety, and even the overall value of the vehicle. Small wonder, with gas prices averaging over $3.70 a gallon in May ‚Äì and more than $4.00 on the West Coast.
Source: Consumer Reports
Not surprisingly, nearly all auto advertising now features claims about fuel economy, a topic that was rarely mentioned in years past. I wonder if we’ve entered a virtuous cycle of consumer perception: the more people tell researchers they care about fuel economy, the more often it gets mentioned in auto advertising. And the more advertisements people see on the subject ‚Äì four out of the top ten advertisers in the U.S. are auto companies ‚Äì the more likely they are to rank it as an important factor in vehicle purchases.
Americans aren’t just talking about fuel economy; we’re actually doing something about it. Companies are making more fuel efficient vehicles than ever, and consumers are buying them. Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell reports that average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the U.S. reached 24.5 mpg in March, 2012 ‚Äì a 19% increase from just five years ago.
Roger Kerson is a Michigan-based media consultant for labor unions and environmental groups. He was formerly director of public relations at the United Auto Workers.