DETROIT – As prices at the pump rise, most Americans say they want improved gasoline economy more than alternative fuels for their vehicles.

That’s according to consumer polling by Kelley Blue Book.

“More than 50% really want their good old-fashioned engines, but with better fuel economy,” says Rick Wainschel, Kelley’s vice president-marketing research.

In the past, Americans reacted predictably to gas-price jumps. “People are jolted, then they adjust,” says Jack Nerad, Kelley’s executive editorial director and market analyst. “We’ll see if that happens this time around.”

Wainschel and Nerad appeared before the Automotive Press Assn. here to discuss the effects of rising gasoline prices on the auto industry, fuel-saving hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) and what new gas-sipping subcompact vehicles enjoy the most “buzz.”

Wainschel says 62% of polled motorists indicate they are seriously considering a more fuel-efficient vehicle next time they are in the market.

Winners will be auto makers with lots of compacts and midsize sedans in their lineups, he says, citing Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Most hurt will be brands with large SUV offerings, he says, pointing to Chevrolet, Ford and GMC.

Nerad says domestic auto makers have their share of fuel-efficient vehicles, but the public perceives Toyota and Honda as having more, largely because of their prominence in HEV technology. That perception carries over to the rest of their product offerings, he says.

Four new subcompacts enter the U.S. market this year, with varying degrees of public interest, according to Kelley, which tracks vehicle trends and used-car prices.

Getting the best buzz is the Honda Fit, says Wainschel. “People are both hearing about and talking about it.”

That’s followed by the Toyota Yaris and Dodge Caliber, which people are hearing about, but not talking much about, he says. However Ward’s data shows early Caliber sales are strong, with Chrysler group reporting 11,236 deliveries in April, nearly twice that of March, the first month the car was on sale.

Last on the buzz list is the Nissan Versa, which goes on sale in July.

The Fit ranks high because of Honda’s reputation as a young-and-fun brand, Nerad says.

“It is interesting where the Fit and Yaris stand, because if you look at the two, without knowing which is a Honda and which is a Toyota, you’d probably say the Yaris is the most exciting,” he says.

But consumers tend to rate vehicles based more on brand reputation than product knowledge, he says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com