As Americans Watch Gas Prices Rise, They Re-commit To Buying Trucks

New research by automotive marketing research firm Auto Pacific reveals that today's fuel costs are not likely to impact the types of vehicles that American consumers plan to purchase.

The company, who has been studying the impact of fuel prices on consumer vehicle purchase behavior bi-monthly since 2005, says that in its January 2022 study, 65 percent of respondents said that they expect fuel prices to increase in the near future but only 23 percent of them said that the higher prices would cause them to change the type of vehicle they would purchase.

In August 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when commuting was at a virtual standstill, just 15 percent of survey respondents said that fuel prices would impact purchasing which was down from a high of 33 percent in 2012.

"Technology has enabled the fuel economy of vehicles of all types to improve enough over the past decade that consumers are no longer forced from SUVs to passenger cars because of high fuel prices as they were in 2008, or even 2012," said AutoPacific president and chief analyst Ed Kim.

The high in 2012 corresponded with the highest average fuel price of the last decade, when the price at the pump for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline cost $3.87. That year, the product purchase mix of sedans vs. light trucks was split evenly at fifty-fifty.

Today, light trucks represent 77 percent of the sales. The most popular vehicles on the market are Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram pickups, and Toyota and Honda SUVs.

Ford F-150
The Ford F-Series, shown here, is America's best-selling pickup truck. Ford Motor Company

Despite the increase in large vehicle purchases, Consumers reported to Auto Pacific in both years that they get 24 miles per gallon (mpg) on average from the model in their driveway.

"Thanks to impressive improvements in efficiency, today's consumers enjoy a similar level of fuel economy as they did ten years ago even though they are much more likely to be driving light truck products today," said Kim. "This is a major factor behind why SUVs are here to stay; they simply don't require a big sacrifice at the pump in the way that they used to."

Despite their vehicle purchase decisions and the cost of gas, consumers still feel that fuel economy is an important measure when they search for a new vehicle. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents agreed with the statement, "the better the fuel economy, the more likely I am to buy a specific vehicle."

However, once consumers have narrowed down their shopping list, they are unlikely to be swayed from one vehicle to another by fuel economy with 58 percent of respondents saying that it would take an improvement of 5 or more mpg to prefer one vehicle to another.