Last week, the SEMA show was held in Las Vegas. There the tuner crowd had the opportunity to ogle some of the most exotic and fantastic vehicles and accessories out there. By and large, the focus at the show is on performance and presence. Those looking for plastic seat covers and curb feelers were probably left wandering the miles of aisles on a seemingly endless and pointless quest.
SEMA is all about amping up vehicles in one way or another, whether it means adding more video display screens on the interior of a sport ute than can be found in a sports bar or putting engines under hoods that are so large that the hood needs to be let out like the pants for someone who has defeated their gastric bypass.
While the show included a wide range of accessories vendors, Tier Ones and OEMs also were present in numbers. And they, too, showed things that enthusiasts lust for. Like the Stage 3 Ford Focus created by ROUSH Performance products, which includes a ROUSH R900 TVS supercharger, ROUSH modified high-flow induction system, and ROUSH dual-exit high-performance exhaust—just to name the powertrain mods.
The candy store analogy comes to mind.
And now for the dentist.
Ford had Maritz Research conduct a national survey on the subject of what is important to consumers when they are considering a new vehicle.
Just as the dentist is likely to tell you to floss and to skip the daily dose of Snickers, it turns out that a considerable number of consumers aren’t that enthused by superchargers and high-flow induction systems, at least not so far as their daily drivers are concerned.
According to the survey, more than 40% of all consumers maintain that fuel economy is “extremely important” to their vehicle selection and one-third say fuel economy has “the greatest impact” on their next purchase.
As Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas, put it “Customers are telling us clean and green vehicles matter because they are good for people’s wallets and good for our planet.”
All manner of customers.
It probably isn’t particularly surprising that those who are interested in B-segment cars, like the Ford Fiesta, put fuel economy #1 on their “reason to buy” list.
It may be somewhat more surprising that those who are in the market for a small C-segment car like the Ford Focus put it at the top of their list (unless, of course, they’re interested in the Stage 3 Ford Focus, which probably isn’t a fuel-efficiency leader).
But who would have thought that those in the market for a car like the Ford Mustang would have fuel economy on their top 10 list? According to Ford, this is a first-ever development.
To be sure, Ford and other vehicle manufacturers are rolling out with an array of more fuel-efficient choices, whether it is the F-150 with a six-cylinder EcoBoost engine or the Focus Electric, which will go into production at a plant in Wayne, Michigan, later this year. (It is the first production all-electric Ford, ever.)
But while some people might think that fuel efficiency is the thing of the moment, to be eclipsed by something else in a year or two, the seemingly inexorable rise in gasoline prices undoubtedly belies that. Consider: according to Gasbuddy.com, at the start of the year the national average price for a gallon of gas was at $2.80. By early May it hit $3.96. There was a steady rise in prices. Things have declined since then, with the average price as of Halloween just under $3.50 per gallon.
So ask yourself this: A year from now do you think gas prices will be lower than today? The same? Or higher? And the year after? And the one after that?
Realize that when someone buys a car or truck today, they are considering not just the present but a few years ahead.
Some might cite the fact that truck sales are rising. Which is true. Through September, for example, Ford sold 416,388 F-150s, which is up from the 385,879 it had sold for the first nine months of 2010.
However, if you skip back to the first nine months of 2007, The Year Before the Auto Industry Went to Hell in a Handbasket, Ford sold 537,211 F-150s. That’s 22.5% more F-150s than it has sold so far this year.
Things have changed. Things will continue to change. And that change is going to be predicated on finding the ways and means to eke out more fuel efficiency, not only because customers want it, which the survey shows they do, but because OEMs have to deliver it, because in 2016 the combined car/truck CAFE requirement is 34.1 mpg, which is up from the 29.7 mpg of today.
Mustangs with enough power to make your gums bleed aren’t going to go away anytime soon. SEMA isn’t going to become a venue of sensible shoes and fuel minders.
But anyone who thinks that customers are going to shift direction and start flocking to products that provide less rather than more fuel efficiency is going to find themselves with a very small if at all existent company sooner rather than later.