Why Fuel Economy in America Is Not Getting Any Better

Source: Toyota

The EPA’s annual report on fuel economy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions revealed the average mile-per-gallon stayed the same since last check of the numbers. Based on data using vehicle production and sales through 2014, the agency showed emissions staying the same since the numbers for 2013 emerged. Though there is a slight improvement expected for 2015, the rush on SUVs and pickup trucks may jeopardize any improvements while gas remains cheap.

According to the EPA, average fuel economy was 24.3 miles gallon (up 1.3) for the 2014 model year, which matched the 2013 totals. Mazda led the pack at 28.1 miles gallon while Fiat-Chrysler had the industry’s worst showing at 20.9 miles per gallon (down 0.1). Of the 12 automakers included in the study, Fiat Chrysler joined Honda, Kia, and Hyundai as the four manufacturers that saw a drop in economy since 2013.

Volkswagen was not listed individually as the Dieselgate probe continues, yet the automaker was included in the industry totals for 2014. Since there was a projected gain for VW, this factor has the potential to bring the number down from 2013 once the final figures become available. Tesla Motors, which only produces gas-free electric cars, was not included and therefore could not have an impact on the final tally.

Because the report covers model year 2014 and uses 2013 as the basis for comparison, none of the more economical debuts (including the Ford F-150) entered into the equation. Likewise, none of the many SUVs coming on the market for 2015 counted. In fact, production numbers automakers projected for 2015 could turn out to be lower than they sold in a brisk market for trucks and SUVs. For that reason, next year’s estimates are suspect.

Chevrolet Colorado
Source: General Motors

According to AutoBlog Green, automakers handed over projections for 2015 sales in early 2014, before the glut of cheap gas had swept America. Since then, large vehicles have dominated the sales charts and small cars have slipped. Crossover, SUV, and midsize truck debuts complicate the matter further. (Even the Tesla Model X, the first utility vehicle from the electric car maker, is less efficient than the Model S sedan by the equivalent of 8 miles per gallon.)

On the bright side, advanced technology has made pickup trucks and SUVs more efficient than ever. However, the premium consumers have to pay for a hybrid or plug-in vehicle no longer makes financial sense in most households, even when state incentives enter the equation. Operating costs are everything.

There is always a flip side, and in this case a rise of gas prices would direct consumers’ attention to cleaner vehicles again. In the meantime, it’s a truck and SUV world; EVs and hybrids just live in it. It would take a tax on gasoline or an old-school spike in prices to slow that trend.

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