Back in 2008, I blogged about Fuqua professor Rick Larrick’s research on flipping the way we talk about fuel efficiency from the familiar “miles per gallon” to “gallons used per 100 miles driven” and later that year I followed up with a post on some of the traction that idea had gained and the GPM calculator they had posted online (still up and running now).
“Giving the gas cost over the lifetime of the vehicle seems to give people a better understanding of its fuel efficiency,” Larrick said. “The current metrics used don’t help people to understand the true value of a fuel-efficient vehicle.” -from the latest research
Last week I got a Fuqua email update that featured Larrick’s latest work on GPM, including the info that in 2013 the EPA had added “gallons per 100 miles driven” to its fuel economy labels. Larrick’s latest work shows that this label may soon warrant an update – apparently consumers prefer a fuel-efficient vehicle when they are shown the statistic of gallons per 100,000 miles driven, even when the expected cost savings in fuel efficiency does not make up for the higher cost of the fuel efficient vehicle.
“Consumers place a lot more weight on fuel efficiency when this information is given to them in terms of gas cost over 100,000 miles,” Camilleri said. “The amazing thing is that this greater weight persists even when the efficient vehicle doesn’t necessarily pay for itself in savings, which makes sense for the consumer who also cares about the environment.”
I always find it fascinating when a change in language is able to impact cultural values and individual behavior, and the idea that this is so powerful that environmentalism could trump cost in a purchase decision is remarkable. However, I’m also a bit skeptical, as survey answers are not always a reliable indicator of actual consumer behavior. Still, even if this only works for cases when fuel efficiency is also cost efficient, this is a great way to make an impact by simply changing the language we use.