Consumers snapping up higher-mileage cars and trucks

Posted Friday, May. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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More information Top states for diesels, hybrids Diesel trucks 1. Texas: 697,904 2. California: 461,035 3. Florida: 228,762 Diesel cars, SUVs 1. California: 84,106 2. Texas: 64,272 3. Florida: 49,838 Hybrids 1. California: 548,199 2. Florida: 122,912 3. Texas: 121,944 Source: Diesel Technology Forum

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Even though gas prices have come down a bit, Americans are rating gas mileage as a top requirement when picking out their next car, according to a survey released last week by the Consumer Federation of America.

And Texans are buying two types of high-mileage — hybrids and diesel-powered cars and trucks — more than almost any other state in the union, says data from the Diesel Technology Forum.

The diesel industry trade group looked at state vehicle registration numbers throughout the country and found the number of diesel cars on the road natinowide has increased 24 percent in the past two years, while hybrids are up 33 percent. That compares with a growth of total vehicle registrations of just 2.2 percent across the country during 2010-2012, largely because of the recession.

Texas leads the way with the highest number of heavy-duty diesel trucks in the nation, now making up 12.5 percent of the total number of trucks in the state. The state ranked second highest in the number of diesel cars and SUVs and third in hybrids, according to the forum.

In total, there are now nearly 900,000 high-mileage vehicles registered in the state. While that number is still just 5 percent of the 19.4 million vehicles on Texas roads, new models will likely push the percentage higher.

“Dodge Ram is bringing a diesel model later this year for lighter-duty trucks — the first in the country,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the diesel trade group. “We expect more light truck manufacturers will follow suit.”

Other new diesel choices to be out this year include the Chevrolet Cruze subcompact, Jeep Grand Cherokee ecodiesel and new diesel vehicles by Cadillac, Audi, BMW and Mazda. The Forum said Volkswagen is selling 85 percent of its Jetta SportsWagen models as diesels, and by 2014 up to 20 percent of BMW’s fleet will be diesels.

“In 2005, there were less than ten choices of diesel vehicles,” Schaeffer said. By the end of this year, 45 different diesel models will be out.

While diesel vehicles typically get between 30 percent and 40 percent higher mpg over their gas counterparts, they also have a higher price tag, like hybrids, and the price of diesel gasoline is running about 8 percent over regular unleaded. Another route for consumers wanting higher gas mileage may be turning back to gasoline-powered motors on small cars or trucks.

“What was surprising to us was the number of gasoline engines with improved efficiency,” said Jack Gillis, spokesman at CFA and author of The Car Book. “Manufacturers are squeezing a lot more out of traditional motors.”

Part of the reason for that are new requirements set by the federal government for manufacturers to increase the fuel economy of new cars to 35 miles per gallon by 2017 and to an average of 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

A nationwide poll, the first by CFA since the new standard was adopted last year, found that 85 percent of Americans support the new requirements. And that support is translating into their future car buying.

The survey showed that fuel economy will be an important factor for 88 percent of respondents in their next vehicle purchase, with almost 60 percent saying it will be a “very important” factor. The latter group expects to get 12 more miles per gallon with their next vehicle.

Many manufacturers already have cars on the market that are meeting the new standards, according to the CFA analysis. For example, of the 134 different car models available in 2013, half have a version that meets the 2014 fuel standards, one in four already meet the 2017 standards, and 12 models meet the 2025 standards.

In part, the increasing mileage of gasoline engines reflects the growing popularity of four-cylinder vehicles. In 2005, less than 30 percent of the vehicles purchased had four-cylinder engines, and in 2012, nearly half did.

“What is remarkable is that improvements in engine efficiency, driven by the standards and consumer demand, resulted in a significant increase in four-cylinder vehicles with little compromise in performance,” said Mark Cooper, director of research for CFA.

The four-cylinder Kia Soul, which gets 29 miles per gallon on the highway, has made Moritz Kia in Fort Worth the No. 1 Kia dealer in the state and second or third in the nation in recent years, said Brian Crawford, new car sales manager for Moritz.

“Our brand is known for getting good mileage,” he said. “Customers come in for that reason. DFW is a very large commute, which helps us a lot.”

Increasing mileage performance is also spurring growing sales of hybrid and electric vehicles, which have doubled during the past four years to more than half a million vehicles, according to CFA.

Another way for consumers to shop for their next vehicle is to look at the sticker price versus the gas mileage. In a study done by Edmunds.com for the Los Angeles Times, the top leader in price versus mileage was Ford’s C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid rated at 100 miles per gallon combined and costs $32,950, before destination fees, tax incentives or rebates. The Energi’s cost per mpg was $329.50.

But there were more affordable options on the top ten list as well with base prices under $15,000, including the Smart Fourtwo, the Nissan Versa, the Scion iQ, the Kia Rio and the Toyota Yaris.

None of those prices included automatic transmission, however, so factor in more for that.

To shop for your next vehicle by car mileage, use the comparison tool developed by the Environmental Protection Agency at www.fueleconomy.gov

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

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