Despite Now-Cheap Gas, US Consumers Support Federal MPG Standards

A random national phone survey of 1,001 American consumers last month found a large majority are in favor of tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) targets set by the federal government.

Although gas is now cheap, the respondents queried March 10 to March 13 by ORC International for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), showed they do not believe it will stay this way.

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Among the findings, 81 percent overall said they support federal CAFE standards, with 52 percent strongly supporting them.

The survey results were announced during a teleconference the Washington-based advocacy gave to support its assertion automakers should stay the course, and not lobby against 2022-2025 standards.

SEE ALSO: Are Automakers Pushing Back Against US Fuel Economy Standards?

According to Jack Gillis, the CFA’s director of public affairs, news reports indicate automakers have been lobbying for relaxation of standards while demand remains. The CFA during the conference also showed automakers are able to meet their targets now and should be able to continue through 2025.

Gas Mileage Still Important

The CFA’s study noted also 81 percent of Americans surveyed said when they are buying a car, gas mileage would be “important,” and 54 percent said it would be “very important.”

“It is significant that consumers are indicating that fuel economy is an important purchase criterion, and that they expressed support for fuel economy standards at a time when gasoline prices were quite low,” said the CFA interpreting the data. “The survey shows consumers recognize the volatility of gasoline prices and expect them to rise.”

Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey, various years, CFA March Gasoline Survey. "Since the latest CES data is for 2014, we have adjusted it for the decline in gasoline prices. We show the income category limits for both the CES and the CFA survey. The categories are closely, but not perfectly, aligned."

Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey, various years, CFA March Gasoline Survey. “Since the latest CES data is for 2014, we have adjusted it for the decline in gasoline prices. We show the income category limits for both the CES and the CFA survey. The categories are closely, but not perfectly, aligned.”

As it turns out, the consumers who offeed their opinion on how fast gas prices will rise were relatively in line with official projections for the next five years published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Specifically, Americans surveyed project gas prices to be at or above $3.00 per gallon in five years. The average response was $3.50 per gallon, and one-third of respondents think prices will hit at least $4.00 in five years.

The EIA’s projection for 2020 is $3.20 in nominal dollars per gallon, although a high price scenario of $4.84 projected by the EIA was much higher than the low price case of $2.72 projected.

“We believe respondents’ attitudes reflect not only expected increases in gas prices, but also their household expenditure experience,” continued CFA. “Even at $2.00 a gallon, the average household spends about $1,500 a year on gasoline, which is about as much as the average household spends on electricity or telephone services.”

Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey, various years.

Source: Consumer Expenditure Survey, various years.

American consumer attitudes may also be a reflection of how volatile gas prices have been over the past decade, offered the CFA.

Compared to 2008, including adjustments for inflation, Americans are spending $1,000 less per year for gasoline, and undoubtedly they would like to keep on saving.