Green Light on Buying a Car: How Consumer Decision-Making Interacts with Environmental Attributes in the New Vehicle Purchase Process

Publication Type

Journal Article

Date Published





Although it is commonly understood that the average U.S. new vehicle buyer ranks price and safety above environmental attributes, a stated ranking of one shopping criterion above another is not necessarily maintained when consumers make an actual purchase decision. In fact, the distribution of shopping criteria rankings is not well understood, and it is unclear how rankings translate to the attributes of purchased vehicles. This raises several related questions: What is the distribution of shopping criteria rankings across the U.S. and how do they differ among demographic groups and purchasers of different vehicle fuel types or body styles? How do consumers weigh their purchase criteria? How does the environmental impact of a vehicle rank as a purchase criterion for U.S. new vehicle buyers, and its importance differ among gender, age, or income groups? Do purchase criteria differ for consumers who state that they value the environment? Is a consumer’s shopping criteria ranking of environmental attributes reflected in the vehicles they consider and ultimately purchase? We explore these issues using data from an extensive survey of new vehicle buyers in 2014, 2015, and 2016 (approximately 250,000 respondents per year). We broadly find the environmental criterion outranked by preference for safety and performance, but different patterns emerge across groups defined by household income, purchased vehicle fuel type, and other measures of respondent attitude toward the environment. Stated preferences for environmental attributes align with higher fuel economy and greater likelihood of electric or hybrid fuel type within considered and purchased vehicles.


Transportation Research Record

Year of Publication



ISSN: 0361-1981


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