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Consumer Reports Analysis Shows Auto Fuel Efficiency and Safety Gains Haven’t Driven Up Cost of Cars

In a new report, Consumer Reports analyzed data on vehicles purchased for testing, and found vehicle prices remained flat from 2003-2021 when adjusted for inflation, despite significant gains in fuel efficiency and safety


WASHINGTON, D.C. – When consumers are shopping for vehicles, two of their top priorities are fuel efficiency and safety.  A new analysis from Consumer Reports shows that fuel efficiency gains and the addition of safety features as standard auto equipment have not led to higher purchase prices, when adjusted for inflation.   


CR looked at the prices of vehicles that it had purchased for testing between model year 2003 and 2021.  It found that, on an inflation-adjusted basis, vehicle prices did not increase —even as average fuel economy increased 30 percent, and proven, life-saving safety technologies such as stability controls were required to come standard in every new vehicle. 


This new analysis comes as the federal government is preparing to consider the next set of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicle model years 2027 and beyond. CR is advocating for stronger efficiency and safety standards, and asking the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to consider these findings.


See more in this Consumer Reports story about the analysis. 


Over the course of the 19 model years in CR’s analysis, electronic stability control and backup cameras became required on all new cars, and advanced driver assistance systems became more widely available. Strong corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and EPA greenhouse gas standards drove significant efficiency gains, delivering consumers an average of $7,000 in lifetime fuel savings on model year 2021 vehicles compared to 2003 vehicles. Buyers of popular SUVs save even more, with projected savings totaling over $10,000. The study also noted that these fuel savings didn’t come at the cost of vehicle size or horsepower, both of which increased in most vehicle classes.


“The data is clear that strong clean car standards work, and deliver huge savings to consumers,” says Chris Harto, a senior transportation and energy policy analyst at CR, who co-authored the report. “Based upon the analysis in this study, we can now conclude that these savings have come with no statistically significant cost to consumers.”


The report found that, while prices did not change for most individual models or vehicle classes, many consumers were trading up to more expensive types of vehicles. Sales of SUVs more than doubled from 26 percent to 56 percent of the market during the study period, while car sales fell from 50 percent to 26 percent. 


“Safety should always come standard.  We’ve seen big advancements in auto safety tech over the past two decades,” says Julia Friedberg, senior safety policy analyst at CR. “Looking at the data, we see that life-saving improvements have been delivered to consumers without a statistically significant increase in vehicle cost after adjusting for inflation. It’s a powerful finding as we keep pressing for safer, more efficient vehicles.”  


The bottom line, says Chris Harto: “Policymakers need to keep their foot on the gas and insist that automakers continue to deliver efficiency and safety improvements, which these findings show to be unambiguously good for consumers.”



Contact: David Butler, david.butler@consumer.org