It's amazing what a little regulation can do for an industry. In the past four years, the fuel economy of new vehicles has improved by an average of 14 percent, according to a new study by the University of Michigan. This increase comes on the heels of big hikes in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, which Congress raised in 2007 for the first time in decades. Since then, CAFE has been set at 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016, and a new proposal that's pending would raise the fuel economy standard to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

The Michigan study showed that the average fuel efficiency of 2012 light-duty vehicles on the market was 21.5 mpg, up from 18.9 in 2008. Adjusted for the vehicles that are actually purchased, the number is even higher, with 2011 coming in at 22.5 mpg. Researchers say that shows that consumers are buying models with better fuel economy.

The biggest efficiency improvements over the past four years came from diesels, which jumped 9.8 mpg, likely as a result of more diesel passenger cars being offered. Hybrids, oddly enough, saw their average fuel economy drop by 3 mpg's, no doubt because of a number of larger and thirstier hybrids hitting the market, like the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid.

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Fuel economy of new vehicles continues to rise

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-The average fuel economy of current model year vehicles is 14 percent higher than just four years ago, say researchers at the University of Michigan.

For all 2012 light-duty vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, minivans, vans and SUVs) offered for sale, average mpg is 21.5, compared to 18.9 mpg for model year 2008 vehicles. The averages were 21.2 for 2011, 20.7 for 2010 and 19 for 2009.

For new vehicles actually purchased, average fuel economy is typically one-to-two miles per gallon higher-22.5 mpg for model year 2011 (the last full year of sales), 22.1 for 2010, 21.3 for 2009 and 20.8 for 2008.

"This implies that consumers tend to choose vehicle models with better fuel economy than the average of all vehicles available," said Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute. "The recent economic downturn, coupled with rising gas prices, has led to an increased interest in purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles."

Using data from the EPA, Schoettle and UMTRI colleague Michael Sivak also examined fuel economy changes by vehicle characteristics: cars vs. light trucks, vehicle class size, transmission type, number of engine cylinders, drive type, fuel type and hybrid vs. conventional vehicles.

They found that average fuel economy:
  • Improved 2.8 mpg for cars (including station wagons) and 1.6 mpg for light trucks (pickups, minivans, vans and SUVs) from model year 2008 to model year 2012. Average fuel economy is currently 23.4 mpg for cars and 18.6 mpg for light trucks.
  • Increased for all 12 vehicle-size classes between the 2008 and 2012 model years. The largest increases were 4.1 mpg for station wagons, which had the highest average 2012 rating of 26 mpg, and 3.8 mpg for compact cars, which had the second-highest average of 25.6 mpg. The smallest increases were 0.2 mpg for full-size vans, which had the lowest average 2012 rating of 13.4 mpg, and 0.4 mpg for small pickup trucks, which had the third-lowest average of 18.6 mpg.
  • Increased 2.5 mpg for vehicles with automatic transmissions and 2.8 mpg for vehicles with manual transmissions; 2.3 mpg for four-cylinder engines and 1.4 mpg for six-cylinder engines; and 3.4 mpg for front-wheel drive vehicles and 2 mpg for four- or all-wheel drive vehicles from model year 2008 to model year 2012.
  • Improved 9.8 mpg for diesel engines and 2.6 mpg for conventional gasoline engines, but dropped 3 mpg for hybrids, which are still more fuel-efficient overall than internal-combustion-only vehicles.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 44 Comments
      Jonathan Arena
      • 2 Years Ago
      Just imagine how much money we are NOT sending to the middle east in the form of gas profits because of those savings....
      Von87
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not to mention that cars are safer and have many more amenities which means they are much heavier. And they are also much cleaner. People may say that a 14% increase is not good enough over 4 year period, bit all things considered its really quite impressive.
      mylexicon
      • 2 Years Ago
      "It's amazing what a little regulation can do for an industry." Yes, it is quite amazing what happens when you threaten people with impoverishment or life in a cage. Nevermind that consumers were already going green (Prius sales peaked in 2007), let's imagine that threatening people with force is the best way to get things done. Jeff if you don't write better articles, I'm going to lock you in a cage, like a gorilla. Hahahaha, what amazing progress I've discovered. This is surely the best way to get things done...........Wait, taking away commercial freedom is always a good idea, unless you're messing with the media. For a minute, I forgot how the game is played. But seriously, though, if you write another bad article I'm going to lobby Congress to fine you or lock you in a cage. And don't pretend I'm not totally awesome for solving my problems with government.
      LUSTSTANG S-197
      • 2 Years Ago
      ...And in other news, the sky is blue!! Seriously, when you take everything into consideration, and all that has changed since the 2000s, the fact that new vehicles are more fuel efficient today is kind of a no-brainer. With these uncertain times, where money is tight, gas is expensive, the continual progression of various fuel saving technologies, and changing demands, why wouldn't they be? In other words, our automobiles are evolving just as they always have been, not some threat like the writer here implies.
      ShutoSteve
      • 2 Years Ago
      As a man puts gas in his Ford GT...
      over9000
      • 2 Years Ago
      BREAKING NEWS: Cars are more boring than they did four years ago, with less options for a manual transmission and moar CVTs
      Hazdaz
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is unpossible!! The clueless rightwingers on the internet, and barking elsewhere in the media, were trying to make us believe that any improvements in vehicle fuel economy would have turned them into death traps. Or tiny gutless boxes that no one wanted to buy! Clearly their doom and gloom couldn't possibly have been over-the-top rhetoric and political propoganda based on nothing more than ignorance and laziness to innovation! unpossible.
        LUSTSTANG S-197
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        What makes you so sure they were "right-wingers"? Did you ask them what their party affiliation was, or are you just looking for an excuse to take a jab at those of us who don't think just like you do? I for one, am more efficient vehicles, as I think the vast majority are. People like you who only seem to think along the lines of left and right are part of the problem in this country.
        Luis
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        Actually, the propaganda was based on ensuring the high profits for the oil barons that run politics.
      Erik Tomlinson
      • 2 Years Ago
      "mpg's"? Miles per gallon's what? "MPG" is already plural, and sticking an apostrophe and an "s" on the end of something doesn't make it plural anyway, it makes it a posessive, even if it's an acronym. This message brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood grammar nazi.
        Fixitfixitstop
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Erik Tomlinson
        +1. That's a pretty huge peeve of mine.
        Scott Berger
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Erik Tomlinson
        Well, this is somewhat correct, but somewhat incorrect. First off, MPG is an initialism, not an acronym. Second, the rules for apostrophes are not as cut-and-dried as you're making them out to be. Generally to make an initialism like MPG plural you'll add an "s" to make it "MPGs." However, this subject is subject to style choice and substantial debate. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym_and_initialism#Representing_plurals_and_possessives. It's best to be a grammar Nazi when you know what you're talking about.
      The Other Bob
      • 2 Years Ago
      "It's amazing what a little regulation can do for an industry." Not sure you can jump to that conclusion. It seems to me that higher gas prices and the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for environmentally friendly cars is driving efficiency far more than CAFE. Small cars were once seen as a penalty. Not so much now.
        High
        • 2 Years Ago
        @The Other Bob
        True but CAFE is still there and I have no doubts its sitting deep in automakers minds. While people were buying efficient smaller cars when gas went up, as soon as it went down a little bit people were jumping ship. With CAFE automakers HAVE to be all in with efficiency throughout their entire lineup, whereas I think without it they may have put out a few decent cars with good enough gas mileage but nothing like the great vehicles being brought out today. Also, because they have to reach those marks automakers have been marketing MPGs and emissions like no other, helping to change the minds of buyers so they don't think it's all about HP because at the end of the day they are still going to have to sell cars and if no one is interested in the new cars they have to sell to meet CAFE, well then they're probably done for.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Car Guy
      • 2 Years Ago
      If you enjoy real performance, get your cars now because starting in the 14MY-15MY timeframe there is going to be a dramatic dropoff in the availability of many V6 and V8 engine vehicles.
        Autoblogist
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        Yeah, how will we ever get performance out of 4 cylinders?
          Travisty
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Autoblogist
          rlog100 - So you mean that most of us will get great gas mileage when we want it, but tire-shredding power when we want that too? The horror!!!
          rlog100
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Autoblogist
          Access that performance and watch your mileage go in the crapper. In fact, drive like anything other than a little old lady and watch your mileage take a significant hit.
        LUSTSTANG S-197
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        People were saying the exact same thing in the 70s. Here we are 30 years later, and cars are faster than they have ever been, and there are still V8s.
        mylexicon
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        Car Guy, people haven't been buying 8s and 6s for a while. The V8 lost out as top engine in the 1980s, IIRC, and last year or two years ago, four-bangers eclipsed V6s as the engine of choice amongst American buyers. V8s have had small marketshare for quite a while. I don't relish the situation, but I'm not a manufacturer who insists on selling 4L-6L V8s that get 15mpg combined. The engines could be downsized, turbocharged, and coupled with fuel saving technology, but it looks like the manufacturers are just going to let them die.
      Nathan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Assuming it was regulation that spurred the increase in fuel economy and not consumers' desire for more fuel efficient vehicles when faced with $4+ gas is a terrible mistake.
        icemilkcoffee
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nathan
        Well, Nathan, it maybe anathema to your political beliefs- but here we have proof staring you in the face. Regulations work. Period.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nathan
        [blocked]
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