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AOL’s utterly misleading title re gasoline prices impact on auto buyers

April 10th, 2012 · No Comments

AOL Auto News popped into my inbox and their first story headline had me clicking to read the full piece. The title in question:

Car Buyers Won’t Change Habits Until Gas Hits $6.51 A Gallon

Rising gas prices are changing consumers habits, but not the way you may think

Pretty dramatic news,that gas prices would have to go up by over 50 percent before there would be significant impact on the car-buying public.

The title, however, is at serious odds with the article and actual survey.  It turns out that of the respondents, about one-third stated that they wouldn’t change their buying habits until gasoline topped $6.50.  Looking at the polling, it seems as if the appropriate title might have been “Gasoline Prices Would Have to Exceed $6.50 For 100% of Car Buyers To Change Habits”.   Not nearly as sexy or exciting, no?

The AOL article starts

More than one third of car shoppers say that gas prices will have to top $6.51 before they would consider buying a more fuel efficient vehicle,

And, the following paragraphs read:

The survey reveals that many Americans have grown numb to the constant drumbeat of higher gas prices, says Rick Wainschel, AutoTrader vice president, automotive insights. “People are coming to grips with higher prices of gas,” Wainschel said. “They are concerned with fuel prices, but they expect gas prices to remain high.”

In essence, the lead-off emphasis: gas prices really aren’t important for the auto industry. And, I guess, that gasoline efficiency is irrelevant in marketing and otherwise.  The article’s conclusion reinforces that:

But don’t expect the floodgates to open for highly efficient small cars. That segment will grow, but it won’t be only because of high gas prices. Not until those prices get really high.

Consumers are just used to it.

In an interesting juxtaposition, its worth looking at an interview with the same Rick Wainschel quote above that was published just last week and which focused specifically on the impact of gas prices on auto buyers. From that,

we do a tracking study with new vehicle shoppers every month, and we recently asked a question about whether people are likely to consider a vehicle they wouldn’t normally consider because of gas prices. For the month of February, we saw the highest level of people saying, “I strongly agree that I am more likely to consider a different vehicle.”Twenty seven percent of new vehicle shoppers, according to our tracking study, are saying they strongly agree that they’re looking at vehicles other than what they normally would because of this issue. And overall, fifty eight percent are saying they agree, strongly agree or somewhat agree

More than 1/4th of actual new car buyers stating that they’re looking at a different car due to gasoline prices with some 58 percent, total, implying that gasoline prices are influencing their auto purchase decision. Quite a different message here than what opened the AOL article.


Here is the material from the survey according to the AOL article:

  • 19 percent said they would need gas prices to be $4 and $4.50 for them to change their buying habits
  • 7 percent said it would have to be $4.51 and $5
  • 18 percent said it would have to be between $5 and $5.50
  • 11 percent said it would have be $5.51 and $6
  • 10 percent said it would have to be $6 and $6.50
  • 35 percent said it would have to be over $6.51

Something interest: no indication, at all, of the 58 percent that Wainschel says was already, at $3.60-$3.85 per gallon gasoline, changing their “buying habits” due to gas prices.

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Tags: automobiles · Energy · energy efficiency · gasoline · journalism · truthiness