Climate

Americans’ Cars Are More Fuel-Efficient Than Ever

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin

In this Sunday, Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, a model poses next to a Hyundai Tucson facelift on display at the Kuala Lumpur International Motor Show in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Average fuel economy of new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. reached a record high last year, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The average fuel economy of 2013 vehicles rose to 24.1 miles per gallon, up 0.5 mpg over 2012 levels and nearly 5 mpg over 2004 levels. According to the EPA, the increase in average fuel economy can be attributed to automakers’ “rapid adoption” of more fuel-efficient technologies, such as turbochargers and advanced transmissions.

“Our report shows that today’s vehicles are saving Americans money at the pump while emitting fewer greenhouse gasses,” EPA head Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “We are thrilled to see that manufacturers continue to innovate and are bringing technologies to improve fuel economy online even faster than anticipated,”

At 28.1 mpg, Mazda had the highest average fuel economy for 2013 model-year cars sold in the U.S., followed by Honda at 27.4 mpg and Subaru at 26.7. Estimates for average 2014 economy still show growth, but at a far more modest pace: up to 24.2 mpg, just .1 mpg better than in 2013. McCarthy, however, told reporters during a press conference not to be “discouraged” by 2014 projections, which she called “conservative.”

In 2012, the Obama administration finalized new rules on cars and light trucks that will bring the vehicles’ average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by model year 2025. The standards are projected to cut 580 million metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2025, but they don’t mean that every car made in 2025 and onward will get 54.5 mpg — as long as the average of all new cars evens out to 54.5 mpg, automakers will be in line with the standards.

In addition to fuel economy being up, the number of Americans who drive to work is down: according to 2013 American Community Survey, the percentage of Americans who drive themselves to work declined to 85.8 percent in 2013, down from 86.5 percent in 2007. As the Washington Post points out, this decline might seem minor, but it represents a major step in Americans’ driving trends: it’s the first time in decades that the percentage of Americans who drive to work has declined. Americans are walking, biking and taking public transit to work instead, but the Post notes that the biggest reason the percentage is down is that more Americans are starting to telecommute.

Electric vehicle sales are also up in the U.S. According to data from January, Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales jumped 84 percent from 2012 to 2013, with fully-electric vehicles experiencing even more of a surge: those sales went up 241 percent in 2013, evening out at about 47,600 total cars sold. Among those 47,600 cars, 18,800 were Tesla’s Model S, and 22,610 were Nissan Leafs. Americans bought only slightly more plug-in hybrids in 2013 — 49,000 were sold in the U.S., bringing the total electric and hybrid car sales in the U.S. to more than 96,000.