Finally, A Good Record High! Car Fuel Efficiency in 2012

The summer driving season is in full swing and I’m sure many drivers are still recovering from the gas-price whiplash we’ve faced this year. 

The good news is that the U.S. has been making some really smart choices and significant strides recently to improve the fuel economy of cars and trucks. That helps Americans save money at the pump, reduces our country’s dependence on oil, and reduces harmful carbon pollution.

I retired my own clunker early this year after some disturbing sounds started emanating from its engine. I went shopping for a new car, and I was delighted to see that the new cars being sold are much more fuel efficient than when I bought my clunker.

I noticed that even fuel economy levels between model years of the same car are noticeably improved. That demonstrates that we are making continual, yearly improvement in fuel efficiency now.

So I wasn’t surprised to see this new analysis from Baum & Associates. It finds that the first half of 2012 set a record high in fuel efficiency for new vehicles.

Here are a couple of key findings from the analysis on the first half of 2012:

  • The average fuel efficiency of new cars sold was 23.8 miles per gallon (mpg)
  • Since 2011 fuel, economy has improved by 1.1 mpg
  • That 1.1 mpg improvement happened while sales increased at a larger rate than the economy

The Baum & Associates report also shows that consumers also had more choices across all types of vehicles to get higher fuel economy in the first half of 2012. It looked at “popular nameplates” – cars that had sales of at least 30,000 annually. Take a look at this chart from the Baum and Associates report:

(Chart: Summer 2012 Fuel Economy Analysis, July 2012, Baum & Associates) 

This progress has been driven largely by new fuel economy standards for cars enacted by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010.

Industry supported DOT and EPA’s efforts and got straight to work improving fuel economy to meet the model year 2012 to 2016 standards.  Those standards require a fleet-wide average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Over the lifetime of these vehicles, these standards will:

  • Save American families $3,000 in fuel costs (model year 2016 vehicle)
  • Reduce oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels
  • Reduce carbon pollution by 960 million metric tons

Even more exciting, new standards to improve average fleet-wide fuel efficiency of our cars to a whopping 54.5 mpg by 2025 are expected to be finalized this summer.

By 2025, the combined existing and anticipated new standards are estimated to:

  • Save American families more than $8,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a new vehicle
  • Reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day
  • Reduce carbon pollution by more than 6 billion metric tons

American consumers are supporting better fuel efficiency in cars, mostly because of the substantial long-term savings on gas.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) just did a new poll. They found that 88 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. should reduce oil consumption, and 86 percent said cutting consumer costs is an important reason why.

Dr. Mark Cooper of the CFA said:

Record spending on gasoline for American families, combined with consumer demand for better mileage and a broad political consensus over higher national standards, are driving faster improvements in fuel economy than at any time since the oil price shocks of the 1970s.

He added:

The 54.5 mpg by 2025 standard will be one of the most important consumer protection measures to be adopted in decades.

Of course, there are other vital reasons to increase fuel efficiency standards for our cars, besides the fact that we’ll save lots of money.

By 2025, oil savings from the combined fuel economy standards (for cars and trucks model years 2012 to 2025) will be substantially more than the amount of oil we imported each day last year from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia combined.

Our cars account for about 40 percent of all U.S. oil consumption. They also account for nearly 20 percent of all U.S. carbon pollution. 

Although there is still much work to be done to reduce our dependence on oil and our dangerous carbon pollution emissions, the success so far of the car standards provides a testament to the innovative spirit of American industry. It’s proof that we can achieve our emission goals while fostering economic growth.

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