J.D. Power unveils Automotive Environmental Index. Is green driving going mainstream?

jdpowers.gifJ.D. Power recently announced its inaugural Automotive Environmental Index, a rating of vehicles’ environmental friendliness based on fuel economy data, customer feedback, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution levels. Although the results of the survey aren’t too surprising, the survey itself could represent an important step forward in the growing consumer demand for environmentally sound transportation.

Recall that there was a time when safety features were simply not part of the car buying equation. In fact, when seat belts were first introduced, they were greeted with derision — from customers. And for decades, auto manufacturers resisted legislative attempts to enforce safety standards. Consumers simply weren’t willing to pay for these features, the argument went.

Of course, we know how that story ended. Today we have crumple zones, anti-lock brakes, side impact air bags, and the list goes on. Manufacturers compete ferociously over their safety ratings because they know that car buyers are paying attention.

Until recently, consumers weren’t willing to pay for fuel economy. Fuel prices had surprisingly (and depressingly) little impact on buyer behavior. But that is starting to change as well, and perhaps the J.D. Power index is a bellwether of consumer sentiment.

Certainly the report contains some interesting consumer statistics, simultaneously revealing heightened interest in fuel efficiency, and also some wildly unrealistic expectations for present technology. For example, 57% of people who will soon be in the market for a new car are considering buying a hybrid. That’s cool. And on average, consumers expect to pay $5,250 more for a hybrid, so they’re not naive about the costs involved.

But they also expect that, on average, hybrids will offer fuel economy gains of 28 miles per gallon, which is far out of whack with the 9 mpg gains that they’ll actually see. And the 49% of consumers who are considering buying flex-fuel vehicles may be disappointed to find out they have no place to fill the tank with ethanol.

Still, though, the survey data is good news. Consumer demand is the horse the pulls the cart, and with J.D. Power throwing its considerable weight behind an easy-to-understand environmental rating system, manufacturers will be sure to take notice.

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  1. Paul - September 20, 2006

    I’d love a more detailed look a the so called “voice-of-the-customer data” that comprises 50% of the ranking. JD Powers seems to imply that this is self-reported data by consumers on efficiency and emissions. Isn’t someone’s perception of the “greenness” of their vehicle inherently going to be biased towards thinking their vehicle is green?
    I’m all for a ranking of the greenest vehicles out there, but I’d rather 100% of the data was more impartially collected. And based on reproducible sampling, rather than someone’s perception of their own vehicle. And, oh yeah, not inherently skewed towards the models that have sold the most units — simply because there is more “voice-of-the-customer data” available.
    Pure fluff.

  2. Steve Williams - September 20, 2006

    I don’t know why people don’t get the mileage that
    hybrids suggest. I own a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid with
    a manual transmission, and I average 50 mpg with it during most of the year. It goes down when I put my studded snow tires on it, but only to about 45 mpg, still pretty darned good in my book. (I live in Denver, and it’s nice to have the studs for winter driving when necessary). Yes, it doesn’t have the great power, but if you are aware of your driving that is not a major problem. The 2006 has a more powerful engine, and I suspect the mileage would be similar.

  3. Adam Stein - September 20, 2006

    Paul —
    I’m not sure you’re fairly describing the survey. The press release says, “Voice-of-the-customer data is also used to help determine the relative importance of these environmental factors. The fuel economy factor represents approximately 50 percent of the index, while air pollution and greenhouse gases contribute to the remainder.” So it sounds like the index is based on hard data, with customer opinion used to determine the relative weighting of factors. (Also, fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollutants are highly correlated, so the weighting may matter even less than it seems.)
    Steve —
    Hybrid performance varies dramatically with driving conditions. For example, the improvements are much more significant on city streets than on highways. Perhaps this accounts for the difference between your own experience and the average.

  4. bruce mcgrew - September 20, 2006

    Just bcuz;u own a hybrid doesn’t mean ur safe!I always beat hybrids most of the time in mpg comparisions due to this naivety.If ur going to get a hybrid use it right people!I own a 2006 Scion Xa that gets with my mods at least 40-44mpg and sad to say a lot of hybrids I found get around 35 MPG not the 60 mpg they advertise.Driving habits for sure r 1 of the problems also tire pressure.If u r going to buy a hybrid b on notice I’m out there,lol!My car is a gas-only car but,I have found out that I can get better gas mileage than these now expensive hybrids.

  5. Mitch - September 25, 2006

    Bruce (and all others concerned for their mpg):
    Let’s not forget that buying a hybrid is not only about improving the miles-per-gallon that your vehicle gets. It’s about creating less dependence on gasoline and foreign oil, providing lower emissions, and expressing the desire to do what’s best for the planet and all who live on it. Modding your car so that it burns more fuel and beats a hybrid on the freeway is fast slipping into that thing of the past you should be bragging about. It’s like bragging that you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. Nobody’s impressed. Do you need to be speeding down the freeway anyway?

  6. pradwastes - September 29, 2006

    There is not a single vehicle that has a requirement for mid-octain gasoline but almost all gas stations are selling it. A good idea would to replace this with E85 and put pressure on all the manufacturers of cars and trucks to make them Dual Fuel capable and be able to what can make us independant of the most politically uncertain parts of the world and keep the dollars in America.
    It is a good thing for JD Power to publish what will contribute to global warming and what cars and truck do the most to help.
    There should be a gas guzzling tax on these big SUVs, making even more expensive to the owners to endanger this planet. That would put economic pressuere to buy smaller more fuel effecient cars and trucks.
    America has to assume a leadership role in controling global waming. Economic pressure is what works in most of the world and it can work here also.
    There is progress on the economical production of ethenol, using cellulose or things like corn stocks and saw grass.

  7. ADam - October 5, 2006

    I hear that there might not be any more weekends in week 48 if we keep up spewing out co2, so keep up the good work!