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Carmakers have made across-the-board improvements in technologies that cut carbon emissions and save consumers money at the gas pump, a sign that current federal rules are working, environmental experts say.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Fuel Economy Trends report shows a record-high number of 25.1 mpg on average for all of the passenger vehicles sold in the U.S., up from 24.2 mpg in 2013. And 12 of the 14 automakers that sell cars and light trucks in the U.S. have shown improvements over the five years ending in 2018.
For consumers, it means new vehicles are going farther on a gallon of gas. And the EPA report offers a road map for environmentally conscious shoppers interested in automakers that are investing the most to improve fuel economy.
“Our tests at the track show that new cars have improved fuel economy while also making strides in safety, comfort, and even acceleration,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports has supported fuel-economy regulations that increase mpg for consumers and that also reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.
Honda and Subaru have shown the most dramatic gains in fuel economy over the past five years with new engine and transmission advances, according to the EPA’s annual report. The two automakers improved fuel economy by more than double the national average.
The Fuel-Economy Debate
The report comes as the Trump Administration is finalizing a plan to scale back fuel-economy targets in the coming years. Rather than improving fuel efficiency by about 5 percent a year, as called for under current regulations from the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal government is considering a plan that would scale back annual efficiency gains to about 1.5 percent a year. A final decision is expected in the coming months.
The auto industry has spent billions of dollars developing new technologies, offering more than 475 models that achieve 30 mpg or more, said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, in an email. The industry is selling 62 hybrids models, 36 plug-in hybrids, and 36 battery-electric vehicles, he said.
“While the industry continues to support year-over-year increases in fuel economy standards going forward, this report also demonstrates the market challenges that exist,” Newton said.
The EPA report shows that automakers are cutting emissions and improving the fuel economy of the vehicles in their fleets, be they SUVs or compact cars, says Luke Tonachel, director of the clean vehicles and fuels group at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“This latest data demonstrates yet again that we need to accelerate progress, not throw it into reverse as the Trump administration is proposing,” Tonachel says.
Every major automaker complied with the 2018 standards, notes Chris Harto, senior transportation and energy policy analyst at Consumer Reports. The fastest growing segments, crossovers and SUVs, saw year-over-year average increases in fuel economy of 4 percent, Harto says.
“This tells us that the standards have worked,” he says. “When automakers invest in fuel-saving technology, vehicles save drivers money on fuel while delivering the performance they’ve come to expect.”
Honda dramatically improved the efficiency of its big selling CR-V SUV from 23 mpg in 2013 to 28 mpg in 2018—a 22 percent improvement in one vehicle. It also sells a lot of fuel-efficient cars, such as the Civic sedan and hatchback and the Accord midsized sedan. The EPA report shows that Honda has taken advantage of new technologies to improve fuel economy—83 percent of its vehicles now come with engines with gasoline direct injection, and 54 percent of its models have a turbo.
Other companies near the top of the list of automakers with high mpg averages include Subaru, which went from 26.5 mpg to 28.7 mpg over the five years. Mazda tied Subaru for second at 28.7 mpg, up from 27.8 mpg in 2013.
Taking a Step Back
Volkswagen was the only manufacturer to take a big step backward between 2013 and 2018. One development came with the virtual end of diesel sales in the U.S. following the company's emissions-cheating scandal. VW has also moved into the business of selling more large SUVs, such as the Atlas. Hyundai was the only other automaker to have a worse average mpg in 2018 than in 2013, falling from 29 mpg to 28.6 mpg—still good enough for fourth-best in the industry.
Bottom of the Chart
Like General Motors and Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sits at the bottom of the EPA chart for individual company fuel efficiency. FCA is known for its truck-heavy lineup of Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs.
In an emailed statement, FCA said it’s investing heavily in vehicle electrification, which means fuel-efficiency gains and less emissions. The chart below is from the EPA.
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