High gas prices discourage Americans from buying cars

FNew Americans are buying new cars right now, and for nearly half of those who haven’t bought a car this year, high gas prices are a major reason. That’s according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of TIME.

Earlier this month, U.S. gasoline prices averaged $5/gallon for the first time ever, the result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, pandemic supply chain disruptions supply, inflation and rising demand. Not only are people commuting again, but the summer season is here and everyone is ready to hit the road. But with prices at the pump nearly $2 a gallon higher than a year ago, it seems to be making some people think twice about acquiring gas guzzlers.

The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 adults across the United States at the end of June, shows that only 10% of respondents have purchased a new car in the past six months. And in addition to the cost and type of car being obviously important factors, just over half of people who bought a car said they took the price of gas into consideration when making their purchase. This compares to 44% of people who bought a car saying they cared what kind of fuel the car used. Meanwhile, only around a third of respondents said environmental concerns played a role in their decision not to buy a new car.

This suggests that the immediate impact on people’s wallets appears to have a greater influence on car-use behavior in the United States than the longer-term implications of driving fossil-fuel vehicles.

My colleague Justin Worland reported earlier this year that if everything from congestion, accidents and air pollution were factored into prices at the pump, gas would cost $2.10 more per gallon. Perhaps if such costs were factored in, the American car fleet would be very different from what it is.

Meanwhile, when it came to renting a car, gas prices and the environment mattered even less. The top concern for respondents who rented last year (around 15% of total respondents) was getting the type of vehicle they wanted at the best price – and for over 75% of car renters, it meant a gasoline-powered car. . Gas prices and fuel economy mattered to just over a third of renters, while a quarter said the type of fuel their rental car uses mattered to them. In the end, only 19% of people say they book a hybrid or electric car.

However, that could change. Hertz told TIME it is seeing a growing demand for fuel-efficient, electric or hybrid cars. And Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise, National and Alamo car rental brands, says that “when we’ve seen fuel prices go up in the past, we tend to start to see increased consumer interest in the fuel efficiency and alternative fuel options”.

Things likely won’t slow down, however, as we head into the warmer months. Enterprise Holdings says “demand and reservations continue to be strong for the summer despite gas prices.” The company expects domestic travel to reach last year’s high levels, with two-thirds of its customers in an internal survey conducted in June saying they plan to take roadtrips. But, he added, “59% of them said they would consider staying closer to home due to rising gas prices.”

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