Pump prices not painful enough to change habits

Conventional wisdom says the record gasoline prices Americans paid in 2008 threw cold water on our love affair with pick-up trucks and SUVs, leading consumers to stampede dealerships in search of more fuel efficient models, right?

smart_car_blue Sure, it’s Smart, but is it popular? (mjecker: Flickr)

Not exactly.
Hummer sales may have taken a hit, but a look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Fuel Economy Trends report released last week shows it will take more than $4 per gallon to move the majority of Americans.
Cars bought by Americans in 2008 were only 0.4 miles per gallon more efficient than the previous year, while preliminary estimates for 2009 is for a mere 0.1 mpg improvement (although the early estimates tend to under report efficiency gains).
Add that to a recent analysis by the Associated Press that “cash for clunkers” funds went largely to replace old pickup trucks with new ones (for a fuel efficiency improvement of between 1 and 3 mpg) and one’s is left wondering just how much financial pain it will take for drivers to change their habits?
The folks at the Safe Climate Campaign say the only thing that will move the needle is federal fuel efficiency standards:

“Rather, the government needs to ratchet up over time the two mechanisms it uses to require the automakers to cut emissions: Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards, and EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions standards.
Only then will car companies begin installing efficient engines and using high-strength, lightweight materials and other modern technologies to put us in cars and light trucks that cut pollution.

Did you buy a new car in the past year? If so, how big a part of the decision was fuel efficiency? What, if any, improvement did you get?