NEW YORK - American new-car buyers now rank fuel consumption as their focus when roaming through showrooms so are considering smaller vehicles.That's according to a survey by Consumer Reports US which found that 37% of buyers had fuel costs as their leading consideration. Quality (17%) was a distant second, followed by safety (16%), value (14%) and performance (only six percent).AFFECTING BEHAVIOURJeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports’ deputy auto editor, announced: "These results make it clear that high fuel prices are continuing to affect drivers’ behaviour and to influence future purchase considerations."While quality, safety and value are still important, this may foreshadow a market shift by folks seeking relief at the pump."It's a dramatic turnaround from when US petrol was cheap and what counted was 0-100mph and top speed.As recently as 2006, the Detroit News has pointed out, fuel economy was the fourth most important factor for car buyers, way up on 22nd five years before that.Oil prices in the US, the DetNews pointed out, have been sharply higher so far in 2012 but in recent weeks oil prices have fallen amid global economic uncertainty. Current US fuel prices average the equivalent of R10.90/litre, more than a rand less than a year earlier, and R0.36 down from a week earlier.About 66% of car owners surveyed said they expected their next vehicle to use less fuel than their current car.The Obama administration plans to finalise new rules that will nearly lalve current fuel consumption averages to 4.35 litres/100km by 2025 – but by then Mr O will be long gone and won’t have to face up to reality.Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said fuel efficiency was vital “to us as automakers, too”.CONSUMPTION RISINGAfter a record low average consumption early in 2012 the national consumption average figure crept back up in April, according to the DetNews, as informed by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Average fuel economy (window-sticker values) of cars, light trucks, minivans and SUV’s bought in April was 9.84 litres/100km, up by 19% from October 2007.The survey found car owners were open to different ways of saving at the pump, from downsizing to looking at hybrids, battery cars or diesel models.Women disproportionately said they were motivated by environmental benefits (65% vs. 58% of men) and more concerned about dependence on foreign oil (63% vs. 49% of men).