Ford Capless Fuel Filler

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.