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Gas mileage drops on list of consumer priorities

As the Environmental Protection Agency this month releases a review of its gas mileage mandate for new vehicles set to take effect in 2025, a survey of car buyers released last week finds that miles-per-gallon is not the most important selling point for most consumers.

The study from auto research company Jumpstart Automotive Group finds that quality and reliability trump mileage among drivers who had either bought a car in the past year or are looking to make a purchase in the next six months.

“When consumers begin their research, their top three must-haves in a brand or vehicle are: good value (77%), a reputation for being strong and reliable (68%), and a reputation for excellent quality (65%),” the study notes.

“With lower fuel costs, consumers are able to focus more on the long-term considerations of vehicle ownership and resale value, like the quality of the car they are considering, rather than monthly expenses, like gas costs,” Libby Murad-Patel, vice president of strategic insights and analytics for Jumpstart, said in a statement.  

Mileage is still a consideration among potential buyers, with 29 percent of respondents citing it as a key influencer. Women tend to factor mileage into their car purchase consideration more than men, the study found.

The drop in oil prices in the past year – from $61 a barrel to around $47 at the end of June – has put more drivers in larger vehicles this year. That lowered the mileage of the average new-vehicle sold in the U.S. in June, following years of gradual increases in mileage as oil prices moved higher.

The dip comes as the feds seek public comment on the looming increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards that will force automakers to sell a fleet of vehicles that average 54.5 miles a gallon. Those comments, as well as additional research by several federal agencies, is part of a year-long process of examining the mileage goals scheduled to be phased in between 2018 and 2025.

According to a study last month from the University of Michigan, the mileage of the average vehicle sold in the U.S. last month was 25.3 miles a gallon.

Studies from advocates for higher mileage standards have issued reports showing its importance among consumers when it comes to car purchases.

The conflicting surveys indicate the divide in the argument that better fuel standards are what the consumer wants.

The new standards were established in 2011 when 13 automakers signed on to the 54.5 miles a gallon goal in concert with the Obama administration. The manufacturers have since maneuvered for some moderate changes to the rules, citing the cost of compliance for pushing up their car prices.

But higher mileage rates are certainly what the feds would like to see.

At a Bloomberg Government event in Washington D.C. last week, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was part of the government team setting the standards, told the crowd that the 54.5 goal can be hit

“I have no doubt oil prices are going to go back up again and people are going to be looking for fuel-efficient cars and hybrids," he said. "I think we should stick with that goal.”