Fuel Economy Is Better Than Ever — But Needs To Get Better

by Ann Mesnikoff, via the Sierra Club

When it comes to fuel economy and emitting greenhouse-gas pollution vehicles are moving in the right direction, but it’s time for the auto industry to move into high gear. Today, the EPA released a delayed fuel economy trends report for 2010 and gives a look at 2011 (pdf).

The newly released data from EPA shows the fleet of new vehicles sold in 2010 averaged 22.6 miles per gallon and emitted 394 grams per mile of carbon pollution. For those keeping track, since the fuel economy program kicked off in 1975 this is a new high point. EPA hasn’t finished crunching all of the data for 2011 vehicles, but the agency projects that 2011 vehicles will improve over 2010 vehicles, averaging 22.8 mpg and spewing less CO2 pollution.

First we need a little translation. EPA’s trends report uses what the agency notes are “adjusted” values for fuel economy and carbon pollution. EPA provides a handy explanation that the “adjusted” values used in in the trends report differ from those that are used in setting the actual fuel economy standards –those are the “unadjusted” numbers. EPA notes that the “unadjusted” numbers are 25 percent greater than the “adjusted” ones.  Yes, it’s confusing and you can learn more here (pdf).

To put the 2010 and 2011 average mpg into the world of standards — think of numbers more like 28.25 and 28.7 mpg. Progress has been made, and now it is clearly time to put improvements on the fast track — as gas prices rise and consumers need relief.

This year, 2012, marks the first year of the Obama administration’s new National Program that is slated to increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to a 35.5 mpg and 250 grams per mile of carbon pollution by 2016. Automakers are slated to improve fuel efficiency by 5 percent per year to hit that target — a rate of improvement much higher than we’ve seen over the past two years.

The administration has proposed standards that will continue to improve new vehicles and by 2025 vehicles sold will be nearly twice as efficient as new cars sold today.As the EPA noted in its release of the trends report today:


Fuel economy will continue to improve significantly as part of the Obama administration’s historic standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The U.S. Department of Transportation and EPA are implementing the first phase of these standards which already improved fuel economy in 2010 and will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg by 2016. These standards will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut the oil we consume, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day — as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC every day.

Consumers are saving at the pump already and using less oil. A different analysis for 2011 vehicles that was reported in January, shows that new vehicles purchased last year “averaged a half-mile more per gallon than those purchased in 2010, an improvement that saved $722 million at the gas pump, where consumers bought 214 million fewer gallons of gas than a year earlier.”

After decades of stagnation, standards are in place to ensure that year after year the trend continues to improve — and faster.  That’s good news for consumers and our environment and for helping to end our addiction to oil.  But, the automakers must deliver to make the next EPA fuel economy trends report a stronger story.

Ann Mesnikoff is Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club’s blog.

11 Responses to Fuel Economy Is Better Than Ever — But Needs To Get Better

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Ann Mesnikoff wrote: “… the Obama administration’s new National Program that is slated to increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to a 35.5 mpg … by 2016.”

    I drive a 22-year-old Kia that gets 35 MPG in worst-case stop-and-go urban gridlock driving and over 50 MPG on the highway. So I find it hard to be impressed by this goal of attaining the fuel efficiencies that were attainable in 1989, by 2016.

    I guess that pressuring the automobile corporations to start actually building, and selling in the USA, the fuel-efficient cars that they have been capable of building, and have in fact been building and selling in Europe and Asia for a generation, counts for something.

  2. Brooks Bridges says:


    it says that in Feb 2012, Volkswagen confirmed that it would build a limited series of XL1s starting in 2013.

    According to Volkswagen, the XL1 can achieve a combined fuel consumption of 0.9 litres per 100 kilometres (310 mpg-imp; 260 mpg-US) and CO2 emissions of 24 g/km.

    Performance credentials include a governed top speed of 158 km/h (99 mph), with 0–100 km/h (0-62 mph) acceleration in 11.9 s. Weight 1750 lbs.
    (For reference, old VW beetle weighed around 1600 lbs, 0-60 25 seconds.)

    XL1 can also go 22 miles on electric motor alone.

  3. Brooks Bridges says:

    I’ve paid close attention to gas mileage in cars all my life and never heard of figures as high as yours until the hybrids came out.

    Like to know what country you live in, and what model, hp, etc, you have. Just looked up a 1999 Kia Sephia at and figures were 20 city and 29 highway. Couldn’t find data for earlier.

  4. Pangolin says:

    If you’re burning fossil fuels you’re doing it wrong; period. The human race evolved in an environment containing ~280 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere. We’re pushing 400 ppm now and any new fossil fueled vehicle produced just makes matters worse.

  5. WVhybrid says:

    I’m getting 122 MPG in my beautiful red Chevy Volt. (In kitchen terms that’s 2.1 tablespoons of gas per mile.) I don’t know why everyone is whining about the price of gas. Except for a trip out of town, the last time I bought gas was Dec. 2.

    Chevy Volt – fast, quite, great handling, and cheap to operate. Total cost to own is lower than any Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Ford, or Chrysler.

  6. Mark Spohr says:

    I bought a new Fiat 500 a year ago. It’s a great fun car and we have used it for local and long distance travel. We’ve even taken it camping! It’s very comfortable on long trips. It’s even great in the snow.
    Anyway, after one year, our AVERAGE fuel economy (local and long distance) is over 40 MPG! This is more than the EPA fuel rating of 38 MPG. I calculate that I have saved over $1200 in fuel costs the first year since this car gets more that twice the MPG of my old one.

  7. Brooks Bridges says:

    LOVE the units – think they should be the new standard.

    BUT, I just checked with Google and it’s 768 teaspoons per gallon. So you’re ONLY averaging a lousy 6.2 teaspoons of gas per mile :-)


  8. ozajh says:

    SecularAnimist’s numbers are good, but certainly possible. I suspect driving style will have a lot of influence (and that the Kia will have a manual gearbox).

    For what it’s worth, I drive a Kia myself, a 2006 model Cerato which is not their smallest model and which has a 2 litre engine. Converting into US gallons I get about 30 mpg around town and maybe 40 mpg at 65-ish mph on the highway.

  9. ozajh says:

    You want commuter fuel economy?

    My first vehicle back in the 1970’s was a little Honda stepthrough motorcycle, complete with screen and footshields. 150 mpg (but 50 mph flat out down a slope).

  10. WVhybrid says:

    Sorry, Brooks, its 6.2 teaspoons per mile, and 2.1 tablespoons per mile. There are 256 tablespoons in a gallon, and 768 teaspoons in a gallon. Don’t try to confuse an old ChE on unit conversions.

    (I’ve spent my whole life converting kilopascals to psi to inches of mercury to bars to atmospheres to kilogram per square centimeter to psf to ksi, etc, etc. I don’t think I will mess up a volume conversion.)

  11. Brooks Bridges says:

    Yes! My bad. Tablespoons not teaspoons.