Americans still wary about their energy use

February 3, 2009 

NEW YORK -- Americans continue to worry about their energy use, even though filling up at the gas pump isn't the budget-busting experience it was a year ago, a new survey shows.

The Consumer Federation of America survey, which was released Tuesday, said motorists still want more fuel-efficient cars despite gas prices that have been halved. Gas prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon in some cities last summer, forcing many commuters to leave their cars in the driveway, join car pools or take the bus.

The federation survey also suggested that more people worry about global warming than last year, and they remain concerned about the country's dependance on Middle Eastern oil.

Last year's meteoric rise in gas prices left a lasting imprint on many Americans, CFA spokesman Jack Gillis said. Gas may be cheaper, but gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks look just as bad now as they did when crude oil rose to more than $147 a barrel in July.

"They were forced to change their attitudes because of the high price of gasoline," Gillis said. "Now they've integrated those attitudes when they think about the future."

Last year, people stopped taking quick trips and combined their errands on the weekends. They bought more fuel-efficient cars. They kept their tires filled to boost their mileage, he said.

"They did a lot of little things," Gillis said. "And they discovered their lives didn't change so much."

The survey, which was released Tuesday, included 1,000 adult Americans contacted by phone Jan. 22-25. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Of the people responding, 55 percent said they were concerned about global warming. That's up from the 52 percent who listed concerns in an identical survey CFA conducted in April.

When asked about U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East, 76 percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about it. That's the same portion as last year.

About 76 percent said they were concerned about high gas prices. That's less than the 85 percent who said they were concerned about gas prices in April.

And if they were to buy a car, 27 percent said they'd look for a model that could get 25 to 30 miles per gallon. Last year, 24 percent said they wanted a car with that much fuel efficiency.

CFA Research Director Mark Cooper said the survey shows there's a healthy demand for smaller, gas- sipping cars. Because of that, Cooper said the federal government easily could push mileage standards ahead five years and require automakers to offer cars that have an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2015.

"They're willing to buy vehicles with four cylinders instead of six," Cooper said. "They're willing to buy smaller vehicles."

Unfortunately, consumers will have fewer fuel-efficient models from which to choose next year, Gillis said. Of the nearly 1,200 car models for 2009, only 17 are rated to get 30 miles per gallon or more. In 2005, there were 20 models that could get 30 miles per gallon or more, he said.

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