Despite the recent dip in US petrol prices, several months of higher prices have taken a toll on consumers as new-vehicle shoppers are more frequently citing high fuel consumption as a reason for rejecting a vehicle, according to the JD Power and Associates 2006 escaped shopper study.

The study, which examines why consumers consider a model, but ultimately purchase a different make or model, found that nearly 17% of new vehicle shoppers cited poor fuel economy as a reason for vehicle rejection - up from 13% in 2002. Poor fuel economyis the third-most cited reason for rejecting a vehicle, following "total price too high" and "total monthly payment too high," respectively.

"Although gas prices have begun to recede, new-vehicle buyers are likely to continue to be wary of volatile gas prices," said Jeff Zupancic, JD Power's director of retail research. "Considering that fuel prices did not increase significantly overnight, consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles has also been gradual. This is especially evident across certain vehicle segments."

In particular, heavier models with poor fuel economy, such as utility vehicles and pickup trucks, had the highest rejection levels due to poor fuel economy. Utility vehicle shoppers who rejected a vehicle on those grounds would typically purchase a smaller utility vehicle similar in configuration to the larger vehicle they rejected. For example, nearly one-half of all shoppers who considered a vehicle in the compact utility segment (EPA average fuel economy of 18 miles per US gallon) ended up purchasing a vehicle from the compact CUV (crossover utility vehicle) segment (24 MPG average).

"In the long term, vehicle models that offer a choice of engines, such as fuel efficient four-cylinders for those more sensitive to fuel prices, as well as more powerful six-cylinder engines for those seeking power, will have a distinct advantage in the market place," said Zupancic. 

"Manufacturers have responded to these consumer needs by introducing CUVs as replacements for, or alternatives to, their truck-based utilities. These CUVs combine the high-seating position and passenger/cargo carrying capacity of utility vehicles with a car-like ride and better fuel-economy."

Price continued to be the most cited reason for vehicle rejection, with 36% of shoppers rejecting because the "price is too high." Despite the common perception that premium shoppers are less concerned with the cost of their vehicle, both premium and non-premium brands were rejected due to price at a similar rate - 59% and 58%, respectively.

The 2006 escaped shopper study was based on responses from 30,719 new-vehicle owners who were surveyed in May and July 2006.

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