Op-Ed: Consumers Will Snap Up Fuel Efficient Vehicles When Priced Right

Surging sales for EVs and Plug-ins Show Interest When Prices Are Competitive

Sometimes, it's a guilty pleasure to be able to say, "We told you so." But in this case, we're confirming a trend that is good news for American consumers, so we feel no guilt at all.

Electric vehicle sales are up, and so are sales of fuel-efficient traditional cars. That reflects what our polling at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) has been telling us for years: when it comes to buying a car, consumers want more fuel-efficient options. Automakers have responded with an ever-growing fleet of efficient and innovative vehicles, and they're selling. That is good news for American consumers because they are saving gas and saving money.

Compared to last year, 2013 electric vehicle sales through July are up more than 500 percent, as prices for Nissan's Leaf and Chevy's Volt have dropped. If you look at sales of electrics and plug-in hybrids today, and compare those numbers to sales of "classic" hybrids at a similar point in their product cycle a decade ago, you find the electric vehicles and plug in hybrids of today are finding buyers more quickly than those early hybrids did.

Check out our gallery: Fuel Sippers versus Gas Guzzlers, and see how more fuel efficient vehicles compare with more gas thirsty rivals.

The key to the market transitions came in 2012, when several of the major auto makers offered hybrids and electrics across all of the models that consumers typically buy: compact, mid-sized and large cars and SUVs. At the same time, hybrids and all-electric vehicles represented five-percent of new car sales in the United States, which is well into the phase of early adoption. In the nation's biggest car market-California-the Prius, the best-known hybrid brand, regularly outsells the popular Civic and Accord, earning the title of the best selling model overall in the Golden State. Even Tesla, which caters to the high-end, high performance market segment, has started to make money.[Editor's note: Tesla's profitability thus far is dependent on selling ZEV credits to other automakers].

According to the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, new-car fuel economy hit a record high last month-weighted for sales-of 24.8 mpg. That's up 19 percent since 2007, the year President George W. Bush signed a law raising national fuel economy standards for the first time in decades. These are standards that, CFA polling shows, Americans of all political stripes support. And it's in large part thanks to the current 54.5 mpg by the year 2025 standard that automakers are working to ensure that all shapes and sizes of vehicles are getting more miles to the gallon these days.

As automakers work toward meeting the standard, as well as delivering new electrics and hybrids, the naysayers should take note. A more fuel-efficient car can save an American family thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle. Add in reduced worries from gas price spikes, and you can see why smart shoppers are increasingly drawn to energy-efficient vehicles. Factor in economic, national security and environmental benefits of reduced oil consumption and you can see why fuel economy was supported not only by consumers, environmentalists, auto makers, auto workers, but received broad bipartisan support.

The recent vehicle sales figures tell the story we've been predicting for years. The future for increasingly efficient and innovative models-including electric cars-looks bright, and it's getting brighter.

Mark Cooper is director of research for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). Jack Gillis is director of public affairs for CFA and author of The Car Book. CFA is a national association of nearly 280 non-profit organizations working to advance the interests of consumers.

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