Average Fuel Economy of New Vehicles Rises 20 Percent in 5 Years

The fuel economy of the average new vehicle sold in the United States rose last month to 24.8 miles per gallon, representing a 20-percent increase compared to five years ago. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)—which has tracked average new vehicle fuel economy since 2007—November saw the national average fall just short of August’s all-time high of 24.9 mpg

According to at least one estimate, the average fuel efficiency of American vehicles has increased by more in the last five years than it did in the previous eight decades combined. A 2009 study from UMTRI found that fuel economy rose from 14 mpg in 1923 to 17.2 mpg in 2006—an increase of just 3.2 mpg over an 83-year period.

The subsequent dramatic rise in efficiency can be traced to a confluence of factors influencing model lineups and consumer buying. Since the mid-2000s, gas prices have frequently hovered near record highs, and car buyers who neglect to factor fuel economy into their purchase decisions have been punished at the pump. Furthermore, a fast-growing portion of drivers are concerned about the environmental impacts of their vehicles, helping to fuel markets for hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles.

But perhaps the biggest factor in the improved fuel economy of American cars has come from the increased selection of efficient vehicles and the discontinuation of many gas-guzzling, full-size SUVs by automakers. Part of this has come in response to demand from consumers linked to rising fuel costs, but much of it is also the result of rising federal fuel economy standards.

Though Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws have been in effect since the 1970s, the standard for cars was kept flat near 27 mpg by regulators from 1984 until the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Currently, carmakers are scrambling to keep pace with a rising CAFE standard that is scheduled to hit 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Recently, the auto industry has been encouraging consumers to look towards more fuel-efficient options like never before, hoping that the growing popularity of fuel-sippers will ease the burden of meeting future regulations. Prices for hybrids and electric vehicles have considerably dropped, and a range of relatively inexpensive improvements to traditional gas and diesel engines has resulted in big gains in fuel economy across the board.

Between electric vehicle leases starting around $200 per month and the evolution of small inexpensive vehicles like the 40-mpg Ford Fiesta, there has never been a better time to shop for a fuel-efficient vehicle regardless of price point.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.

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