Average Fuel Efficiency of U.S. Cars Continues Steep Rise

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The average fuel efficiency of new vehicles in the United States rose to 24.9 mpg last month, according to a study released by the University of Michigan this week. The findings confirmed a trend seen in the growing sales numbers for hybrid and electric vehicles, small gasoline cars, and increasingly efficient trucks and SUVs. Thanks in part to higher federal fuel economy standards, carmakers are giving buyers a wide range of options for cutting their fuel use. Consumers are responding.

For decades, nearly all the auto industry’s technology improvements went into making cars bigger and more powerful. But since 2007, the average fuel economy of cars and trucks sold in the U.S. has grown by a whopping 4.8 mpg. That’s a 24-percent increase over the paltry 20.1 mpg achieved before the federal government established more ambitious standards. In December 2007, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law, which increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for the first time in nearly 20 years. Since then, CAFE requirements have been raised even higher, with automakers currently obligated to reach 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Of course, there is a large gap between the current average fuel economy and 35.5 mpg, but that’s because CAFE’s calculated fuel efficiency averages grant a wide range of allowances and adjustments to automakers. In terms of real-world fuel economy, carmakers will have to reach roughly just 27 mpg by 2016 to be in compliance with the law—within range of the current 24.9 mpg level.

Though the market for alternative fuel vehicles like hybrids, clean diesels and plug-in electric cars has grown significantly since 2007, most of the fuel economy increases were accounted for by growing demand for smaller vehicles and more efficient gas engines, particularly in light trucks and SUVs. For example, the average efficiency of Ford’s popular F-150 pickup (pictured above)—which frequently tops the list of the best-selling vehicles in the U.S.—has jumped by nearly 30 percent since 2007.

In the coming years though, carmakers will have to be far more aggressive in their deployment of new fuel technologies if they are to keep pace with CAFE. The target for 2025 is 54.5 mpg. That greatly increases the chance that your next car will average around 40 mpg in real-world efficiency.

Companies will be required to expand lineups of hybrid and electric vehicles, and find innovative marketing strategies to make those cars attractive to buyers. In order to achieve this, Detroit and its foreign competitors are rapidly working to increase the appeal—often with better creature comforts and high-tech features—and to drop the price tags at the same time. This will, in turn, produce greater fuel savings for consumers who will ultimately benefit from fewer trips to the pumps—and an overall lower cost of ownership, even if the fuel-saving technology slightly increases the upfront purchase price.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.

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Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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