Many American Drivers Plan on Downsizing

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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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While the majority of car buyers intend on buying a vehicle that is the same size as the automobile they drive now, a significant portion – a full quarter of all buyers – intend on downsizing by purchasing a smaller car, according to a new survey conducted nationwide of adult car owners by Consumer Reports.

It appears that this downsizing trend is due to the increased cost of gasoline in the United States. The Energy Information Administration says that the current nationwide average price of a gallon of gas currently hovers at $3.844. That’s a five cent per gallon increase from week to week, and as of today, the cost of gasoline is just two cents shy of being a full dollar per gallon higher than this time last year.

The top five reported reasons for downsizing by survey participants were:

Improved fuel economy – 92%
Lower maintenance and repair costs – 71%
Environmental concerns – 67%
Improved reliability – 67%
Lower purchase price – 65%

While a quarter of the participants in the survey do plan on downsizing, nearly a fifth of all respondents – 19% – intend on purchasing a larger vehicle, with drivers in the 18-34 year old demographic most likely to buy a larger car.

The top five reported reasons for a desire to upsize included:

Need more passenger/cargo space – 80%
Improved comfort – 72%
Improved safety – 66%
More reliable – 60%
Improved fuel economy – 55%

While younger drivers skewed towards upsizing, we’re rather shocked that more than half of those who intend on upsizing expect an increase in fuel economy. And those fitting into the younger demographic were also the most optimistic about the amount of increase they expected from their larger vehicles, with that figure topping 6 miles per gallon of improvement from their new, larger cars.

The results also indicate that future buying trends are changing as well, and there will be significant impacts on the types of cars being sold in the United States. The top three automobile classes for both likely gains and losses in sales are:

Expected gains in sales:

Small cars: +3.6%
Small SUVs: +2.7%
Sporty cars: +1.4%

Expected Losses on sales:

Pickups:  -2.1%
Minivans:  -3.6%
Sedans:  -5.7%

Other significant findings of the survey showed the gender gap between vehicle types. More women – 26%, drive small cars than men – 18%, while more men – 22% than women – 6% drive pickup trucks.

While the survey indicates a definite trend towards downsizing into smaller cars due to the cost of gasoline and other economic factors, it is too soon and too small a trend to indicate a complete paradigm shift in buyer’s habits.

A full 56% of drivers intend on their next car being the same sizes as their last, but if pressures such as fuel cost continue to rise, we expect to see further movement of drivers into smaller cars and SUVs.

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