More new-car buyers seek better gas mileage

NEW YORK — More new-vehicle buyers than ever cite gas mileage as a reason for choosing one car over another, according to a study of vehicle preferences. The study released Wednesday by J.D. Power and Associates also said a growing number of potential car buyers are considering buying Asian brands, while the number considering cars from domestic automakers is shrinking.

"Fuel economy has definitely become a more important issue," said Tom Gauer, senior director of automotive retail research at J.D. Power.

The results of the study, conducted from May to July, come at a time when U.S. automakers are scrambling to get fuel-sipping vehicles to the market.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have been ramping up production of small cars while cutting back on larger vehicles. GM also plans to sell a new global compact car, the Chevrolet Cruze, in the U.S. in 2010, the same time Ford will introduce its new European-designed Fiesta. Both cars are expected to get close to 40 miles per gallon.

The J.D. Power survey showed that nearly 20 percent of buyers cited inadequate gas mileage as a reason for rejecting one car in favor of another, up 3 percentage points from 2007. That has climbed from about 15 percent in 2003.

However, fuel economy remained in third place among the most important factors consumers cited for turning down a vehicle. The No. 1 factor remained sticker price, which 40 percent of buyers cited as a reason. The No. 2 factor was monthly payments, Gauer said.