US fuel economy average down for the first time in four years

It's almost impossible not to notice that it's a lot cheaper to fill up at the gas station in the latter portion of this year. As of December 1, the US Energy Information Administration said the average cost of a gallon of gas was $2.778, down almost 50 cents from a year ago. In general, fuel prices have been on the decline for much of 2014, and the effects have started showing themselves with people seemingly more willing to buy lower efficiency vehicles.

The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in November was 24.8 miles per gallon, according to the Wards Auto Fuel Economy Index. That was down 0.1 percent from November 2013. While a tenth of a percent was hardly a mammoth change, it still represented the first decrease in the figure in the last four years. Wards Auto said that improvements have been diminishing over the past six months, but this was the first actual decline.

That statistic also represents just one month. Through the first 11 months of the year, the index shows an average of 25.1 mpg, a 1.8 percent improvement over 2013.

Gas prices in the US have been predicted to fall since last year, in part because people were buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. However, this much of a decline was bit of a surprise. At least one expert earlier in 2014 thought it would take a financial collapse to get the average below $3.00. However, a fight in the OPEC cartel over which country would reduce production first has also been also a contributing factor in making gasoline cheaper.

The effects of the price drop are showing themselves beyond just Wards' index. Sales of hybrids and EVs are down about 5 percent for the year. That comes while SUVs and pickups are up around 20 percent.

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