Concerns about fuel economy ('gas mileage') continue to influence US new vehicle shopping, particularly among consumers who consider purchasing SUVs, according to the 2004 JD Power and Associates Escaped Shopper Study.

The study, which examines the reasons new-vehicle shoppers consider, but reject, a vehicle, finds that approximately 15% of new-vehicle buyers reject a model due to its economy figures. The concern about fuel consumption is particularly influential among those who seriously consider a full-size SUV model, with 22% rejecting a particular model due to economy concerns. Nearly 40% of those shoppers who reject a full-size SUV due to fuel consumption ultimately purchase a midsize SUV instead, while nearly 20% purchase another model in the segment.

"As long as [petrol] prices remain high, [fuel economy] will continue to be an important factor that buyers consider when shopping for a new vehicle," said Scot Eisenfelder, JD Power and Associates' vice president of retail automotive. "However, SUVs are still a popular choice among buyers. While SUV shoppers keep [fuel economy] in mind, a large proportion of them still buy another SUV, albeit a smaller one, when the one they first considered didn't meet their standards for fuel efficiency."

There is also evidence that the extended incentive wars are shaping customer expectations, as an increasing number of shoppers reject models because they do not have sufficient rebates. Approximately 18% of shoppers reject a model due to insufficient rebates - up 2% over 2003.  Domestic models are rejected more frequently than import models based on insufficient rebates (20% vs. 17%, respectively), despite higher average rebates offered by domestic brands.

"While shoppers are always keen on a good deal, manufacturers with the most attractive incentive offers are often still rejected based on a perception of inadequate rebate or finance incentives," said Eisenfelder. "Many shoppers who reject one brand because it lacks incentives end up buying another brand that traditionally doesn't offer substantial rebates. This is a good example of how product attributes, which are typically highly important to shoppers, can outweigh financial incentives."

The average number of vehicles seriously considered per shopper declined slightly in 2004, in part driven by an increase in the proportion of "passionate buyers" - those who say they fell in love with the model and didn't seriously consider another vehicle - from 21% in 2003 to nearly 25% of buyers in 2004. A major driver of the increase in "passionate buyers" can be attributed to a record number of model launches, with 28 new model introductions included in the 2004 study.

"With an increase in new-model launches over the next few years, it will become increasingly difficult for older models to gain a place on the shopping list," said Eisenfelder.

The 2004 Escaped Shopper Study is based on responses from 28,719 new vehicle owners.