$1-a-Gallon Fuel Hike May Be the Road to Conservation

From Associated Press

Gas prices would have to rise by about $1 a gallon before most Americans would dump their gas-guzzling cars and trucks for more fuel-efficient vehicles, a survey suggests.

About seven in 10 Americans say they would switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles if gas prices hit $2.09 per gallon, according to a survey being released today by AutoPacific Inc.

That leaves 30% who are unwilling to change the type of vehicle they drive regardless of how high fuel prices go, the automotive marketing research firm found.

"What you find is that while people will tell you that fuel economy is very important, they don't actually react that way," said George Peterson, president of the Santa Ana firm.

For the AutoPacific study, the nearly 26,000 people questioned had bought 1998 models in the last four months of 1997. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The results show that regulation is the best way to lower vehicle pollution, said Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program.

He said federal lawmakers should raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, which currently requires that light trucks average 20.7 miles per gallon and new cars average 27.5 mpg.

But Peterson said the survey results argue against that. Auto makers shouldn't be forced into making small, fuel-efficient vehicles that consumers don't want, he said.

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