TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Fuel efficiency gains are nice, but the car-buying public does not seem to be interested, a prominent Honda dealer said at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars.
“You have to consider the customer’s needs, and some trump fuel economy,” said Forrest McConnell, president of McConnell Honda-Acura in Montgomery, Ala., speaking here Tuesday.
Using live props, he said fuel economy mandates were like selling broccoli to customers who want low-calorie doughnuts.
Among his listeners? The director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality and the deputy executive of the California Air Resources Board -- both of them influential voices on the industry’s mandate to hit the 2025 corporate average fuel economy target of 54.5 mpg.
“In the past few years, manufacturers have been doing a hell of a job,” said McConnell, who was also the 2014 chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. “In 2006, automakers produced 69 high-mileage vehicle choices. Today, they produce 492.
“We have gas-powered Honda Civics on my dealership lot that can get 40 miles to the gallon,” he said. “People used to have to buy a hybrid car to get that kind of mileage.”
But fuel efficiency is not driving the market, he said. What consumers want are light trucks, SUVs and crossovers. They want the ability to carpool and ride in comfort, he said. He noted that sales of the electric Leaf and the hybrid Toyota Prius have both fallen this year in the face of low gasoline prices.
Leaf U.S sales are down 30 percent and Prius sales have fallen 15 percent through July.
“The reality is only 14 percent of new-car owners surveyed said that gas mileage was the most important factor for buying a car,” McConnell said, siting the J.D. Power 2015 Avoider Study. “That was a nice way of saying that 86 percent of them didn’t think so.”
McConnell said that while he understands the need for fuel economy, “We need to find a realistic balance. There are costs and limits to national regulations.
“What dealers care about are the realistic costs to our customers,” he said. “I can tell you that dealers have a mission: to serve our customers by offering choices -- choices that fit their lifestyles and budgets.”