INSERTING and REPLACING “Mean” and “Green” Collide in Detroit: New Polls Gauge Car Buyers’ Desires for Super-Power vs. Alternative-Power

January 11, 2008

According to Consumer Polls:

  • Miles-Per-Gallon and Eco-Friendliness Trump Power and Performance
  • 51% of Consumers Say Their Perception of GM is More Positive Than a Year Ago
  • Consumers Most Impatient for All-Electric Vehicles, Diesels and New Hybrids

With plug-ins, fuel cell vehicles and hybrids sharing the floor alongside hugely powerful muscle cars and ultra-sized SUVs, the theme of next weeks North American International Auto Show in Detroit could be described as mean vs. green. And, with GM pitching its environmental leadership (Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 aside) and Toyota taking heat for its mammoth trucks, including the bigger-than-ever 14-mpg Sequoia, a shift in traditional automaker perceptions may be afoot.

To gauge how car buyers feel about these and other developments in an industry, with one foot in the past and the other searching for a foothold in the future, conducted a series of online consumer snap polls. The polls are currently posted alongside in-depth Detroit Auto Show coverage Below are some highlights from the recent polls.

Consumers mixed on muscle

Recent and most-anticipated debuts are the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but, according to the polls, consumers have mixed feelings about these retro muscle cars, with only 28% describing their return as positive, 32% describing it as negative, and 41% describing their feelings as mixed. When pressed on which of the upcoming muscle cars theyd be most likely to buy, it was a close race between the Camaro (29%) and Nissan GT-R (25%).

Mileage trumps horsepower theoretically

When asked what will matter most during their next vehicle purchase, only 10% cited power and performance, while 38% named gas mileage and environmental friendliness. For most, however, its a compromisewith 52% saying theyll look for the best available combination they can find between power and efficiency. And although people say they place a high priority on being green, most (53%) said they traded up in terms of horsepower in their most recent vehicle purchase.

Full-size hybrid SUVs and trucks get a big response

Thanks to GMs new two-mode hybrid technology, full-size SUVs and trucks – like the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado, Cadillac Escalade and Dodge Durango- are about to come out in hybrid models that should deliver mileage in the 20-25 miles-per-gallon range. Sixty-two percent of car shoppers surveyed described their reaction to these vehicles as positive. And 28% say their arrival will impact what theyre considering for their next vehicle purchase, either significantly or somewhat (if the price difference and fuel benefits make sense). Only 8% said they plan to buy a full-size SUV truck but wont pay the premium for hybrid benefits. The remaining 64% say they wont consider a full-size SUV or truck hybrid or otherwise.

The Toyota/GM PR Wars asked a series of questions designed to determine whether consumer perceptions of Toyota and GM shifted over the past year.

Despite some recent press concerning Toyotas environmental stance and lackluster reliability ratings, most survey-takers (41%) say their perception of Toyota is about the same as it had been a year ago, and the remainder was roughly split between having a more positive vs. less positive perception. For those who say that Toyotas image has slipped of late, most (55%) cited the decline in their reliability ratings as the primary reason. The remainder said it was primarily because Toyotas environmental reputation had been diminished in their eyes by its promotion of bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles (25%), or its unwillingness to support the recently passed bill to raise CAFE standards (20%).

Meanwhile, GMs image seems to be on the upswing, with 51% saying their perception of GM is more positive than a year ago. When asked to name their primary reason, 42% cited news of improved quality and reliability, 35% named their recent environmental commitment, and 23% said that it was simply a matter of GM offering better and more diverse vehicle offerings.

Mean, green or in between?

Shoppers were also asked whether they thought Toyota and GM, respectively, were: a) mean (i.e., associated with big, powerful vehicles), b) green, or c) mean and green (meaning associated with big, powerful vehicles and new fuel technologies). Although only 2% described GM as green and 53% described them as mean, 44% see them as both green and mean. A comparable 49% rated Toyota (the definitive green automaker) as both mean and green, although 45% still described them as primarily green and only 6% said theyre primarily mean. Toyota was also ranked by survey-takers as the most environmentally responsible car company, although GM was rated ahead of many automakers, including Ford and Chrysler.

What will it take to wean us from mean?

President Bush recently signed a law that each automakers fleet of passenger cars and light trucks must average 35 mpg by 2020. But, according to the polls, most shoppers seem to feel that the industry is headed in that direction anyway. When asked what it would take for Americans to give up speed, power and size in their vehicles, nearly half (48%) said people will make the shift to smaller, less powerful cars on their own, because of gas prices and political and environmental realities. On the other hand, 25% say drivers wont make the shift until theyre forced to by law and penalties, and 27% feel that Americans will never completely sacrifice speed, power and size, which they feel is just a part of our culture.

Go to for complete poll results and in-depth Detroit Auto Show coverage

For daily coverage of this years Detroit Auto Show and mean vs. green poll results, log on to

(a) Consumer Voice polls were conducted as a series of vehicle-related snap polls via the website and consumer newsletter at the end of 2007.

About Autobytel Inc.

Since launching the first car-buying website in 1995, Autobytel Inc.s (Nasdaq: ABTL) mission has been to empower automotive consumers with the tools and information they need to make smart, well-informed vehicle purchasing and ownership decisions. The company has helped millions of car shoppers and generated billions of dollars in car sales for dealers. Today, the companys innovative, consumer-driven flagship site,, expands the companys mission across the automotive purchase and ownership life cycle. As the first vertical search experience for the automotive marketplace, is designed to help Internet-savvy consumers FIND, SEE, BUY and LEARN anything automotive and BELONG to a diverse community of people who have similar automotive interests.

By providing a convenient and comprehensive automotive consumer experience across the purchase and ownership lifecycle, Autobytel provides new value and touch-points for automotive marketers. Through and Autobytels marketing network, the company connects dealerships with a steady, diverse stream of exceptionally motivated, serious shoppers, while providing both dealers and manufacturers with precision-targeted brand and product marketing opportunities. The company’s advanced web-based advertising and marketing programs also help dealers and manufacturers build relationships with customers, as well as help them to efficiently manage and convert online business.

Consumer Voice Mean vs. Green Polls

In your next new vehicle purchase, what will matter most?
Power and performance 10%
Gas mileage and environmental friendliness 38%
The best compromise I can find between both   52%
If Toyotas image has slipped at all for you of latewhats had the biggest impact?
News that reliability ratings (at Consumer Reports, etc.) had fallen off some 55%
Their promotion of bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles diminished their positive environmental reputation for me 25%

Their unwillingness to support the bill to raise the CAFÉ standards diminished their environmental reputation for me.

If your perception of GM has improved at all in the last yearwhats had the biggest impact?
News of improved vehicle quality & reliability from reliable sources 42%
Their environmental commitment–new green GM vehicle technology like hybrids, plug-in hybrids, ethanol, etc. 35%
Simply better and more diverse vehicle offerings   23%
Which talked-about vehicles arrival are you the most impatient for to hit dealers?
New muscle/sports cars 19%
New hybridsavailable in more sizes and models 14%
Plug-in hybrids with big, projected fuel economy gains 17%
Fuel cell vehicles 16%
All-electric vehicles using no gas/producing no emissions 18%
New clean diesels   16%
What will it take for Americans to give up speed, power and size in their vehicles?
Americans will never completely sacrifice speed, power and size— its just part of our culture 27%
People will make the shift to smaller, less powerful cars on their own-because of gas prices, and political and environmental realities. 48%
People wont sacrifice their bigger, powerful vehicles until they are forced to-by law or penalties   25%


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