Fuel Economy Numbers Aren’t Going Up

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Not so many years ago, gas prices took a giant leap and automakers rushed to improve fuel economy. No one wanted a big, inefficient SUV when prices were hovering around $5 per gallon. The government was on board with this idea, too, and set lofty goals automakers must achieve in the coming years. Fuel efficiency increased at first, but over the last few years, the number is holding steady.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) keeps tabs on overall fuel economy for light-duty vehicles. This includes cars, SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks. It crunches the numbers annually to see how automakers are doing in their efforts to reach the government-mandated corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.

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These standards were enacted by Congress back in 1975 in an effort to reduce our reliance on oil. The latest guidelines from the EPA set a 54.5 mpg target for 2025. That’s about double where the number is today. It was only a recommendation and the number was up for review until April 2018, but the EPA didn’t wait that long. The 54.5 mpg target is official.

Reaching that goal should mean there are steady increases in fuel economy every year, but that’s not what’s happening. According to the UMTRI report, corporate fuel economy is holding at 25.1 mpg. It hit that average in 2014 and that’s where it’s stayed since.

The number started at 20.8 mpg in 2008 and saw increases every year through 2014. That’s good news since it marks a significant improvement. Americans are saving money at the pump and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced at the same time. The bad news is things appear to be stuck.

While automakers are trying to make their cars more fuel efficient, not everyone buying a car cares. Gas prices are down and the economy is up. There’s also the issue of what buyers want in a car. A muscle car or a truck is only so fuel efficient and the person buying that car isn’t willing to sacrifice performance for the sake of fuel economy. It’s a balancing act.

The other piece of good news is the increasing number of hybrid and electric options available today. These cars are out there, but again it comes down to what people want to buy and not everyone is willing to give up that old combustion engine.

Regardless of what people want, the government’s CAFE standards are out there. Automakers must hit the 54.5 mpg target by 2025 and they’re quickly running out of time.

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Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin