PURSUING SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION ENERGY
Consumers could determine the future of alternative fuels and vehicles —
more so than government policy or corporate strategy.
BY JOHN EICHBERGER
As retail fuels marketers consider where to invest heir money, understand- ing changing consumer attitudes is critical. To help you, in January, NACS released the latest of the evaluations of
consumer attitudes toward fuel prices and alternative fuel vehicles.
Price Still Matters
One of the deafening findings of the NACS Consumer
Fuels Survey, a monthly series of consumer sentiment
surveys (conducted in partnership with Penn Schoen
Berland), is that fuel prices continue to be a defining factor for consumer behavior. In January, two-thirds of consumers reported that they decide where to purchase fuel
primarily on the posted price on the sign at the station.
Further, two-thirds of consumers reported they
would be willing to drive five minutes out of their
way to save five cents per gallon — ironically negating
any real cost savings at the pump. But the response
demonstrates that fuel purchasing is more about the
emotional lift one feels by “saving” some money rather
than by making a sensible decision.
Price is also a factor in consumer acceptance of
alternative fuels. In a May 2013 survey, NACS found
that 69% of consumers who anticipated buying a new
vehicle within two years were not inclined to consider
a diesel-powered vehicle. Of these consumers, 54%
cited the expense of the fuel as the primary influencing
factor. This was followed most closely (38%) by the
expense of diesel vehicles themselves.
If price will drive consumer behavior, ultimately
Interest in Alternative Vehicles Shifts
it must include valuation of the fuel price and the
additional cost of the vehicle. At some point, more
savvy consumers can calculate the mile per dollar of a
vehicle, incorporating both the cost of the vehicle and
that of the fuel. New technologies that demonstrate
value in this regard may have an advantage in attract-
ing consumer attention.
In January 2014, the number of consumers (54%) who
reported they intended to purchase a vehicle in the next
three years increased six points over January 2013.
During this time frame, those who said they would
consider a non-gas vehicle dropped five points to 41%.
To what extent did fuel prices affect these results?
According to the Oil Price Information Service
(OPIS), the national average retail price was about
the same during our survey in January 2013 ($3.35)
as it was during our survey in January 2014 ($3.30).
However, the price trends leading into these surveys
were a bit different. The annual average retail price in
2012 was $3.61 compared with $3.49 in 2013. Further,
for the second half of the year, the retail price in 2013
was lower than in 2012. Both of these factors may have
contributed to a lower level of anxiety regarding fuel
prices and may have affected consumer sentiment
around alternative fuel options.
NATIONAL RETAIL GASOLINE PRICES
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
(Source: Oil Price Information Service)