A month ago, Priscilla Blecha purchased a Honda Fit - sight unseen.
The 62-year-old hairdresser sees the car as a retirement vehicle - something roomy enough for her gardening supplies and golf clubs. Getting exceptional gas mileage, she said was "icing on the cake." It was an easy sale for Honda Motorwerks in La Crosse, Wis.
With no end in sight to high gasoline prices, selling points such as good mileage are more than mere icing; they may be a matter of survival for automakers. Every company has a small car in its lineup. But which automakers are best-positioned to appeal to customers such as Blecha?
To find out, Automotive News has compiled a fuel economy report card of the Big 6 automakers - General Motors, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Nissan and Honda - an analysis that calculates each company's ability to attract buyers such as Blecha. The report card considers four factors: the median household income of an automaker's customers, percentage of light trucks in each company's lineup, average fleetwide fuel economy and the company's green image.
To be sure, the rankings are unscientific - and rely on some value judgments. But the research leads to a clear conclusion: Honda and Toyota will do best if gasoline prices continue to rise. Honda topped three categories, while second-ranked Toyota topped the green image category.
Ford, DaimlerChrysler and GM appear the most exposed to gasoline price hikes, largely because they sell a higher proportion of light trucks.
But they have other issues, too. Their customers tend to have less household income, their corporate average fuel economy ratings are worse and, generally speaking, they have a poorer public image when it comes to environmental sensitivity.