Fuel Efficiency Features are Most Popular New Technologies

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Mike VanNieuwkuyk

Although U.S. drivers may see a drop in the average price of gas at the pump in the next few months vs. the same time frame a year ago*, new-vehicle owners have fuel economy on their minds when it comes to their interest in advanced features and emerging technologies to consider when they purchase their next vehicle, according to our 2013 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study.

Two of 22 features evaluated in the study with the highest percentages of vehicle owners who “definitely would” and “probably would” want a certain feature enhance fuel economy. Higher interest among owners this year may be because these technologies are already available in many non-premium vehicles; they are lower-priced than some technologies and owners are already familiar with them.

Energy Feature: Highest Interest among 22 Emerging Technologies

The fuel economy indicator feature has the highest overall interest before a suggested price is provided (79%) and also after an estimated market price of $50 is introduced (72%). In addition, the percentage of vehicle owners who “definitely would” want the feature in their next vehicle actually edges up from 28% to 30% after a price is revealed. Also, as expected, non-premium brand vehicle owners are even more interested in this feature than are premium vehicle owners.

2013 Ford FocusThe second-most-attractive feature that aids fuel economy in our study is active shutter grille vents. Vent system technology improves fuel efficiency by reducing drag and regulating air flow to reach the vehicle’s radiator when needed to save gas. A majority (76%) of vehicle owners—both premium and non-premium vehicle owners—“definitely would” and “probably would” want this fuel-saving technology in their next vehicle. However, when an average market price is provided—$150—the percentage of vehicle owners interested drops to 61%. Only 18% of respondents “definitely would” want the feature, down from 21% before a market price is revealed.

Another technology that helps provide better fuel economy is the stop/start system feature, which has a much higher average market price—$500—than the other energy features and also has a lower interest level with new-vehicle owners. Before a price is given, 61% of vehicle owners “definitely would” or “probably would” want the system in their next vehicle. That percentage drops to just 36% when a market price is introduced. Hybrid vehicles most often feature this fuel-saving technology.

It’s evident that there needs to be more consumer education about stop/start technology. Based on analysis from our Consumer Insights and Strategy Group, social media conversations raise a few concerns. Consumers don’t seem to truly understand the benefits of this technology. In addition, online conversations ask whether this technology is cost efficient in city driving and whether the system increases engine wear. Still other social media chatter indicates that when the stop/start system shuts off the engine, consumers feel the vehicle may have stalled. Consequently, many online discussions of this feature are regarding how to deactivate it altogether.

Specific Brand Owners Express Elevated Awareness in Emerging Technologies

When looking at fuel-efficiency feature purchase intent, there are differences in awareness by brand. For example, a majority of Hyundai and Honda vehicle owners express higher interest in fuel economy indicators before a price is presented. It’s likely that awareness is higher among these vehicle owners because the two brands already have introduced fuel economy assistance technology in their models during the past few years.

As for active shutter grille vents technology, one major brand, Ford, has a higher percentage of vehicle owners interested in the feature (83%) before a price is introduced. A likely reason for higher interest is that Ford already has been making a major push to promote this fuel-saving feature. The third fuel economy feature—stop/start systems— also receives higher levels of purchase intent interest among Honda, Lexus and Toyota owners—brands whose hybrid models already include this emerging fuel-saving technology.

Overall, when we look at the purchase interest between premium and non-premium brand vehicle owners, it’s no surprise that premium brand vehicle owners express the most interest in having most emerging technologies in their next vehicle than do non-premium brand vehicle owners. The higher cost of some emerging technologies is a major issue for non-premium vehicle owners. Yet, it’s noteworthy that the smallest gap in purchase intent interest among both groups is for fuel economy features. Of course, it’s also likely that non-premium brand owners have a vested interest in energy economy technologies because they are more sensitive to the cost of fuel.Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power and Associates

*The average price of a gallon of regular gas at the pump in the United States was $3.51, which is down from $3.66 a month ago and down from $3.84 a month ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.In California, the average price yesterday was still $3.92 and the price per gallon remains above $3.65 per gallon in nine states.

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