The history of American automobiles is full of major changes. In fact, Henry Ford’s Model T bears little resemblance to any vehicle on the road today. What was once a top priority in a vehicle becomes a fad passing through the rearview mirror. During the baby boom, when families were growing at an exponential rate, larger cars with more seats and cargo space were in high demand. Then, following an oil crisis in the 1970’s, fuel economy became a chief concern and vehicles became more fuel efficient. In the early 2000’s spacious, powerful SUV’s with anemic MPG packed the roads across the country. Today, gas prices are falling while vehicle prices are rising. So, what do car buyers consider to be the top selling points?
A recent Harris Poll found that the four most important factors when purchasing a vehicle were reliability, purchase price, safety features, and fuel economy. The poll also found that the two least important factors were passenger volume and cargo volume.
Reliability is at the top of the list, as 93% of respondents claim it is an important factor when considering a vehicle purchase. Anyone who has owned an undependable vehicle that spends as much time sitting on the side of the road as it does driving on the road knows the importance of reliability. Over the years, vehicles have become almost universally more reliable, and this trend should continue.
The second most important factor cited by car buyers was purchase price (81%). The average new car price has skyrocketed to over $33,000 and used car prices are at an all-time high. If vehicle prices continue to climb, consumers will continue to make affordability a top priority when searching for a vehicle.
It should be no surprise that 75% of respondents report that safety features are an important factor to consider. Even though wearing a seat belt was not a common practice until the 1990’s, vehicles are getting progressively safer. As car buyers continue to make safety a priority, vehicles should continue to get safer as a result.
The fourth most important factor when purchasing a new vehicle is fuel economy (71%). Even with lower fuel costs, fuel efficiency persists as a major selling point to consumers. Gas prices are notoriously erratic and, even though drivers are enjoying a brief respite at the pump, it seems that a call for improved gas mileage is not a passing fad.
The least important factors when purchasing a vehicle among respondents were passenger volume (31%) and cargo volume (28%). Long gone are the days when Hummers and other gas guzzling behemoths ruled the road. With over 76% of Americans commuting to work alone, consumers seem to value passenger capacity less, as it makes little sense to have seven empty seats during an hour-long commute. Cargo space becoming less of a priority seems to signal a trend toward keeping one vehicle that accommodates cargo needs, but trading in cargo space for other priorities for the second vehicle.
As consumer demand changes, so will our vehicles. The Harris Poll provides us with some valuable insights on what to expect from future vehicles. According to consumer preferences, the vehicle of the future will be more reliable, affordable, safer, and fuel-efficient while also getting smaller.