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Consumer Reports survey: Drivers want better fuel economy, a majority say automakers have a responsibility to do better

Stronger federal greenhouse gas standards are needed to provide consumers with better, cost-saving choices

WASHINGTON, DC — Drivers want and expect automakers to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles each year, according to a new survey from Consumer Reports of adult U.S. drivers. Improving fuel economy is one of the ways automakers reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicles.


  • 89% agree or strongly agree that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types (i.e. large SUVs and pickup trucks).
  • 83% agree or strongly agree that they expect each new generation of vehicles on the market to be more fuel-efficient than the last.
  • 74% agree or strongly agree that automakers have a responsibility to consumers to improve gas mileage.

A recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report found that the efficiency of new vehicles sold in the U.S. declined for the first time in several years. The Biden Administration recently announced plans to strengthen the nation’s vehicle emissions standards.

“Car buyers expect new vehicles to be more fuel efficient, but automakers are failing to deliver what their customers want,” says David Friedman, VP of Advocacy at Consumer Reports. “Drivers need the new Administration to give automakers a jump-start by quickly setting strong greenhouse gas standards so that progress picks back up again.”

Just half of adult U.S. drivers agree or strongly agree that automakers are doing a good job of making fuel-efficient vehicles, and only 3 in 10 agree or strongly agree that automakers care about lowering fuel costs for their customers.

The CR survey also asked prospective vehicle buyers (those in the market for a new or used vehicle within the next two years) how important fuel economy is to them when considering what vehicle to purchase or lease. 64% said it was either ‘extremely important’ or ‘very important.’ Only 6% said fuel economy was ‘not very important’ or ‘not at all important.’

Fuel Economy Attitudes

CR also asked prospective vehicle buyers who currently own or lease a vehicle which three attributes of their current vehicle, from a list of options provided, have the most room for improvement. Fuel economy topped the list, selected by 42% of those who currently have a vehicle. The next most commonly-chosen attributes were purchase price (25%) and maintenance costs (25%). Consumers also selected fuel economy more than twice as often as vehicle size (18%) and three times as often as horsepower (14%). 

The auto industry has the technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions of new cars and light-trucks 60 percent by 2030. This could be achieved through a combination of improving fuel economy and shifting to electric and other alternative fuel vehicles. A recent analysis by Consumer Reports found that the most popular electric vehicles cost less to own than the best-selling gas-powered vehicles in their class. 

“Strong standards mean people can buy new cars and trucks that will save them money while cutting emissions,” adds Friedman. “Your mileage is better so you’re making fewer trips to the gas pump, or you’re eliminating the trips all together with a money-saving electric car. The new administration should go well beyond California’s deal with automakers and embrace the full potential of American ingenuity.”

Consumer Reports uses fuel economy when rating vehicles as part of its consumer product testing program, and recently unveiled a new program called Green Choice, which uses a green leaf icon to help consumers identify the new vehicles with the lowest greenhouse gas and smog-forming emissions.

The nationally representative survey of 3,879 adult U.S. residents was conducted by phone and Internet from July 29 through August 12, 2020. Questions not about policy were asked of those who plan to purchase or lease a vehicle in the next two years, with a sample of 1,735. Interviews were offered in English and Spanish. For full survey items and results, see here.