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Consumers' Perceptions and Misperceptions of Energy Costs
Hunt Allcott
American Economic Review. May 2011, Vol. 101, No. 3: Pages 98-104

Consumers' Perceptions and Misperceptions of Energy Costs

Hunt Allcott1

1Department of Economics, MIT, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142, and New York University.


This paper presents three initial stylized facts from the Vehicle Ownership and Alternatives Survey (VOAS), a nationally representative survey that elicits consumers' beliefs about gasoline prices and the relative energy costs of autos with different fuel economy ratings. First, American consumers devote little attention to fuel costs when purchasing autos. Second, consistent with a cognitive bias called “MPG Illusion,” consumers underestimate the fuel cost differences between low-MPG vehicles and overestimate the differences between high-MPG vehicles. Third, Americans' mean and median expected future gas prices were above current prices and predictions of the futures market at the time of the survey. Although it is often argued that misperceived energy costs justify policies to encourage the sale of energy efficient durable goods, these results show that misperceptions and expectations that differ from market information could either increase or decrease energy efficiency.