Cars have been getting more fuel-efficient for some time. Whether it’s making a noticeable impact has been of greater debate. But a research study from the University of Michigan looking at the past five years shows the fuel economy of new cars sold in the U.S. has increased 20 percent since 2007, and now sits at its highest in U.S. history.
Back in October 2007, gas was cheaper. The economy hadn’t collapsed. People bought new Hummers and didn’t care about getting 12 mpg on the highway. The average light vehicle fuel economy for vehicles that carrying a gross weight rating of less than 8,500 pounds—normal passenger cars and trucks—was 20.1 mpg.
Then fuel prices skyrocketed on the back of a weak economy. Automakers were forced to produce more fuel-efficient cars because people wanted them. The federal government then began talks of increasing mandated corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) for all automakers. That 2007 figure jumped up 4 mpg over the next five years to 24.1 mpg, according the those Wolverines in lab coats.
There’s one problem with the university’s findings, however. Per the study: “For cases in which the EPA Fuel Economy Guide contained multiple fuel-economy ratings for a vehicle model, the average of these ratings was used (without regard to sales figures for each specific engine or vehicle-model variant).”
Most companies’ volume sellers are generally the ones with the best fuel economy like four-cylinder midsize sedans and small-engine variants of cars and trucks. But not all of them are. Some SUVs and crossovers are almost always ordered with a middle-rung engine. Such was the case with the 2009 Toyota 4Runner that debuted with an underpowered four-cylinder engine as standard. Its sales were so weak that Toyota dropped the engine option after the first model year.
Yet, according to this study, its fuel economy numbers were averaged evenly with the rest of the engines and drive setups offered by Toyota for the 4Runner. What we’re trying to say, then, is that these numbers don’t paint a completely accurate view of just how fuel-efficient cars and trucks have gotten, which we’d surmise is a little higher on the whole.
CAFE mandates will be pushing fuel economy averages into the 30s over the next five years and then to 54.5 mpg by 2025, supposedly. This University of Michigan study shows a great bird’s eye view of where car sales are trending, but it still doesn’t completely show what’s really going on with car sales and how much of an impact more expensive gas is really having.
Source: University of Michigan