Automakers are starting to tout fuel economy to consumers who are increasingly worried about sustained high fuel prices.
At least four automakers have incorporated a fuel-economy message into their marketing:
1. A stylish spokesmodel in a Mercury Montego TV spot mentions the sedan gets 29 mpg on the highway.
2. A recent General Motors "Only GM" print ad and a similar TV commercial stress that the company has 20 vehicles that get 30 mpg or more.
3. A Toyota TV spot says the automaker has nine models with an EPA rating of 30 mpg or more.
4. Honda devotes a 30-second TV commercial to the Civic's 38-mpg highway mileage rating.
"With fuel prices consistently high, consumers are now looking for that message," says Thad Malesh, an analyst who tracks advanced powertrains for the Automotive Technology Research Group, a consulting company in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Manufacturers are absolutely playing into what they now believe is one of the key elements that people are looking at when buying a new vehicle."
A gallon of gasoline is up about 29 cents a gallon from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.
A barrel of oil sold for between $55 and $60 last week, and gasoline prices were at near record highs in many parts of the country.
GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney says her company's decision to promote fuel economy in advertising grew out of the "Only GM" campaign. The campaign stresses what makes GM different from other automakers.
"We are the only automaker with that many models that achieve at least 30 miles per gallon," Carney says. "We want to show what an advantage it is to buy GM. Certainly fuel economy is one thing people look for when buying a car."
The GM ads couldn't have come at a better time. The company commissioned a study two weeks ago that surveyed 1,004 adults. It asked which automaker does the best job developing energy-efficient vehicles. GM finished last.
Toyota and Honda are perceived as the automakers doing the best job developing energy-efficient vehicles, the GM survey says.
But Toyota doesn't mention the gasoline-electric Prius' 60-mpg city and 51-mpg highway EPA ratings in its TV commercials. Toyota has been stung by complaints from Prius buyers who expected to get close to the EPA estimates.
Many Prius drivers get about 40 mpg because they drive mostly on the highway, not in stop-and-go city driving, where the Prius is most efficient.
Toyota's ad mentions "high mileage" but gives no specifics.
You may e-mail Richard Truett at