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Most car buyers don't expect to downsize their next new car purchase

Posted Thursday, April 21, 2011

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Yonkers, NY - Most car buyers (56 percent) expect their next new vehicle to be the same size as the model they currently drive, but those who are looking to downsize are motivated by improved fuel economy, lower maintenance and repair costs, environmental concerns, and improved reliability, according to a new survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

These findings are from a recent random, nationally representative telephone survey of 911 adult car owners in the United States. Starting Friday morning, Consumer Reports will launch a series of reports on the dollars and cents of downsizing your vehicle. The reports will be available at

Among the drivers interviewed, a quarter of respondents plan to downsize, and 19 percent actually expect to buy a larger vehicle. Older buyers and Northeast residents (where gas prices are higher than in much of the country) are more likely to buy the same size. Those drivers aged 18-34 years are more likely to upsize.

“Despite the common drive to reduce car-operating costs, not everyone wants to downsize. Many young drivers have older vehicles, and as their careers grow, there is a natural ambition to have a new or newer car that is more comfortable and reliable—often that means stepping up from a small car to a midsized sedan or other vehicle This younger demographic may also be in their family-starting years, and likely in need for more passenger space,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy online editor, Consumer Reports Cars.

Reasons for downsizing include: Improved fuel economy (92 percent); Lower maintenance and repair costs (71 percent); Environmental concerns (67 percent); Improved reliability (67 percent); Lower purchase price (65 percent); Don’t need the passenger / cargo space (61 percent); and Improved safety (59 percent); Don’t need as much power (54 percent).

Reasons for upsizing include: Need more passenger / cargo space (80 percent); Improved comfort (72 percent); Improved safety (66 percent); More reliable (60 percent); Improved fuel economy (55 percent); and Lower maintenance and repair costs (50 percent).

Future buying trends:

Consumer Reports asked respondents what cars they drive most often and what car type they plan to buy next. CR found that more women (26 percent) than men (18 percent) drive a small car, while more men (22 percent) than women (6 percent) drive pickup trucks.

On average, drivers said they get 23.0 miles per gallon in their current vehicle, with most (77 percent) falling in the 15-34 mpg range. When asked about their expectations for their next ride, the median fuel efficiency was 29 mpg – a 6 mpg improvement. Those under age 35 were more optimistic.

“Clearly, the economy and fuel prices are influencing buying trends. Should either change dramatically, more significant changes are likely. For now, our random panel shows a slight shift toward small cars and small SUVs,” Bartlett said.

Recent Consumer Reports analysis shows that for most drivers, downsizing from a relatively late-model vehicle often will not pay off for years. Trading the cost of poor fuel economy for new car payments may not provide the immediate relief that many consumers seek. It is important to look at the long-term ownership costs when choosing a vehicle, especially when buying sooner than you typically would. In the days ahead, Consumer Reports will publish in the Cars blog its detailed findings to help car shoppers make smart decisions while reducing their ownership costs.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

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Most car buyers don't expect to downsize their next new car purchase
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