End of 17-Year Decline in Fuel Economy

Oct. 2, 2007: Source – Wall Street Journal

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Last week, the EPA released fuel economy averages using new test methods designed to better reflect real-world driving habits. As a result, fuel economy averages dropped by 6 percent compared to old testing criteria. But when comparing fuel economy apples-to-apples, the average fuel economy for 2007 vehicles was flat compared with 2006 vehicles. That’s good news considering that the average fuel economy of America’s new car fleet has been on a downward trend for the past 17 years.

Toyota posted a 22.8 mpg average for its 2007 vehicles compared with 22.4 mpg the previous year. Toyota’s average was helped by the Prius, which had the highest combined fuel economy of any passenger car with 46.2 mpg. Honda had the highest fuel economy of any manufacturer with 22.9 mpg, a slight decrease compared with its 2006 lineup.

But Joseph White, writing in the Wall Street Journal, dug a bit deeper in the EPA’s report to find a few startling figures:

Compared with 1987, the average weight of the vehicle we drive has risen by 923 pounds, or 29%. The average time it takes for a vehicle to go from zero to 60 miles per hour time has dropped to 9.6 seconds–the fastest since the EPA started compiling this data in 1975. Our average car or truck has 223 horsepower, and the most horsepower per pound on record.

…If 2007 cars were as light on average as 1981 cars, our national average car fuel economy (according to the unadjusted EPA lab figures) would be 13% better than current reality. If 2007 model trucks were the same weight as the average for 1981, their fuel efficiency rating would be 35% better.

White draws a line between consumer demand for heavier, faster, safer, and more luxurious vehicles, and the flat-line on fuel economy. He asks, “What Will It Take for Americans To Give Up Speed, Power and Size?” Michigan U.S. Rep. John Dingell recently proposed one idea: a bill that would raise the tax on gasoline by 50 cents. According to White, “It’s pretty likely this bill will go nowhere.”

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  • Max Reid

    Thats good news, the average vehicle mileage will sharply increase in the future with the increase in Hybrids and decrease in gas-guzzlers.

    Sep-2007 Sales are in and Hybrids have not done well.
    Toyota + Lexus had sales of 18,130 while Honda has around 2,321.
    Thats a total of 20,451

    Nissan may be around 1,000 while Ford may be around 2,000. All this
    may bring a total of 23,000, which is annualized sale of around 275,000.

    But Sep-2007 overall vehicle sales is 4 % less while the Hybrids may
    be the same which is good.

    Some lessons learned here.
    * Despite the introduction of newly designed Highlander, its sales
    declined from 2,347 in Sep-2006 to 193. The reason is they increased
    the length, width, height and the weight of the vehicle and the green-minded
    people have rejected this as Hybrid model.

    * Prius had 23 % increase with 12,494 units sold, while Camry slightly increased
    from 4,044 to 4,196 units.

    * GS450h declined from 162 to 72, Rx400h declined from 1,687 to 979 and the
    new entry LS600h gained 196.

    * Overall, Toyota has to remove some extras and reduced the prices. Already
    price of Prius is reduced by 1,200 and Camry by 1,000.

    * People are quite shrewd and have become more cost conscious especially with
    problems in housing market and the economy in general.

  • Angelo

    Well I’m glad to see the turn around. I find it pointless for 90% of those driving mid-size SUVs and larger to actually be using them for what they are made for. over 90% of the time they are being driven by 1 person… what a waste!

    Max, on the September sales report, what is the TOTAL number of cars sold? Of that what percentage is the 20,451 (or ~23,000 w/ Nissan & Ford) Hybrids sold?

    We have to look at it as 20,451 MORE hybrids on the road for the month, or a better number of 275,000 for the year. I know what I’ve saved in gallons of gas and dollars at the pump, as well as reducing emissions. So now add 275,000 gas savers and ultra low emission vehicles to the list for this year.

    Over my previous vehicle (a 2000 Chevy Cavalier 4cyl avg 19mpg), I use 30-40 gallons a month less in my Civic Hybrid. Multiply even the low end of 30 gallons a month saved by these 275,000 new hybrid owners, and we are saving over 8 million gallons of gas a month, and over 60% emission reduction.

    So they may not doing so hot sales-wise, but the overall impact can be seen now and in the future.

  • Max Reid

    Angelo

    Around 1.3 million vehicles were sold in Sep-2007, so the Hybrids of Toyota & Honda have around 1.5 % share. Nissan + Ford + GM will bring it closer to around 1.8 % range which is lesser than the best months in Summer, still better than last months average.

    Unfortunately people look at return on investment when it comes to Hybrids, but not with Hummer like vehicles.

  • Michael

    I have to say, Angelo, that your estimates on fuel savings do not give me all that much hope. The 8 million gallons of gas saved per month seems like an incredible thing until I found a little tidbit from the EPA stating that Americans alone use an estimated 11 BILLION gallons of gas per month. Now that gas savings number doesn’t seem all that astonishing anymore. All the new hybrid drivers in the US are saving 0.07% of the total used. If this were a math class, the US would still have 100%. I think we need a couple million more new hybrid drivers to make a dent in the 11,000,000,000 gallons used a month.

  • pgtw8s

    Are these weighted by the number of each model sold during the year – e.g. the Civic’s mpg has greater influence than the Ridgeline’s due to greater number of units sold? It would seem not, since the number for Honda is less than 23mpg.
    Also, what are the averages for other manufacturers? Are they considerably lower than Honda/Toyota?

  • Van

    One way to look at it is the actual decline will end when the fleet average is better than 1989. All that 2007 does when compared to 2006 is end a one year decline. And if it were not for about 23,000 hybrids, the mileage in September 2007 would have been worse than a year ago. Bottom line, the CAFE standards are a joke, they have enabled wasting gas.

  • Dom

    Angelo – what was wrong with your Cavalier?? 19mpg?!? We used to have a 2002 Cavalier, 4cyl automatic, and it regularly got ~30mpg. If it’d been a stick shift that would’ve been even better. People just need to trade the monster SUVs for smaller cars… that’d solve a lot of our problems.

  • Angelo

    The 8 million gallons of estimated fuel saved a month is for hybrid vehicles sold this year (2007). Here are some estimated numbers for hybrids sold since 2002:

    2002 32,585
    2003 43,435
    2004 78,617
    2005 183,207
    2006 254,454
    2007 270,000 (so far)

    Total is about 862,000 (not including prius/insights sold in 2000 & 2001). If we took a 5% error rate on numbers that also includes hybrids that have been totalled out due to accidents, we’re looking at about 820,000 hybrids on the road. using the same calculation as I did above (saving 30 gallons a month) the fuel saved is approximately 24,600,000 gallons/month or about 586,000 bbl/month.

    Michael, with your statement of 11 billion gallons a month, is this based on the number of barrels used (domestic & import)? If so, out of every 42 gallon barrel, only 19.5 gallons is converted to gasoline. The rest is for other petroleum products. The above number of 586,000 bbl/month would have to be converted to actual gasoline used from each barrel which would be 1,294,000 bbl/month.

    I’m not arguing that it is a small fraction of 1% (around 0.27%) of the gasoline used in the US. I’m saying that it is a savings that can now be measured and will continue to grow with the increased sales of hybrids, and will grow even faster with the reintroduction of electric vehicles again!

    Dom… as far as 19mpg with my old Cavalier, I can’t tell you what was wrong. I know the EPA listed it at about 24 city/29 hwy. But my average tank was 275 miles and my average fillup was 13-14 gallons. On highway trips I could push 310 out of a tank. I can say I wasn’t a model driver at that time, so I know a lot of it was my driving style (50-60mph in the city/80-85mph highway). However I rarely used the A/C. I’m sure if I was still driving the same in my Civic Hybrid, I would pull high 30′s to low low 40′s on mpg. But since I found my Zen spot driving the Civic Hybrid, I can pull high 40′s to low 50′s. Highest mpg tank has been 55mpg, lowest has been 46mpg.