Is average fuel economy ratings of American autos stuck in neutral?

With repeated calls for improved average vehicle fuel-efficiency ratings of American made automobiles over the years, one would be inclined to think those improvements would be a given and would already have been realized. The question is have they been?

To help lay this all out, in the “U.S. driving popular way back when, even more so now,” Air Quality Matters blog post of Mar. 29, 2016, I wrote: “[New York Times reporter Bill] Vlasic, in this regard, gives a progress report. The Times writer, in relying on U.S. new vehicle fuel economy mileage data sourced from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, went on to state how vehicle fuel economy had improved, climbing to 24.3 mpg in 2014, which was up 26 percent from 2004’s then new vehicle mileage ratings. He, however, also related that since reaching a real-world-driving-average peak of 25.8 miles per gallon in Aug. 2014, vehicle fuel efficiency retreated to an average 25.2 mpg in Jan. and Feb. this year.” Ever since that 2014, 26 percent mpg improvement over the average auto fuel-efficiency rating of that in 2004, it seems like average new vehicle mileage ratings have become flat, meaning they’ve remained pretty much unchanged.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, in its “2022 EPA Automotive Trends Report,” incidentally released into the public domain just this month on Dec. 12, 2022, would seem to confirm this. One of EPA’s findings is that average vehicle fuel economy for new motor vehicles sold to Americans in 2021 was 25.4 miles per one gallon of gasoline; a mere 0.6 percent improvement over that of the prior year.*

One must ask though, isn’t it the buying habits of American car buyers that ultimately is the main determining factor in influencing which direction – up or down – the corresponding trend data move?

For example, if American motor vehicle buyers are purchasing limited numbers of vehicles having far-improved mileage ratings because in their minds they believe they either cost too much or are not what they are necessarily looking for in an automobile offering, then this could cause such trend data to shift downward.

And as to a basis for this it could very well be, that the process involved in engineering improvements, in this case the kind that translates into average vehicle fuel-efficiency and corresponding mileage performance in an internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle being far improved, well, such could significantly add to the auto’s sticker cost. And, that right there could cause a number of would-be purchasers of that model to consider a different vehicle model purchase instead.

Then there is the aspect (perceived or otherwise) of why automakers aren’t offering a bigger assortment of hybrid or fully electric models to choose from and ones deemed reasonably priced at that.

So let’s consider that for a moment. That an automaker produces a number of, say, fully electric or hybrid versions, it cannot automatically be assumed sales of such will be brisk. There would have to be valid reasons for why consumers would make the decision to go that route. There are quite a number of hybrids and electrics already on the market with more on the way, presumably. Offering rebates and the like on these could possibly be motivation enough for some to choose a hybrid or an electric vehicle for their next vehicle purchase when that time comes.

Or, it could be something else entirely.

For perspective, “‘Auto companies claim they’re chugging ahead with electric vehicles, but the EPA’s report shows they’re more like the caboose claiming to be the engine,’ said Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign. ‘A scant 4% of 2021 vehicles were EVs.'”

Could it be that this is all much ado about nothing?

Now, as to the manufacturing direction the auto companies in the days, months and years ahead decide to go, we shall see.

At any rate and as to the actual numbers of EVs sold domestically, in looking at the numbers in the aggregate, out of roughly 17 million domestic motor vehicle buys annually, 680,000 (or thereabouts) fit the description of an EV.

* As was explained in the “EPA Report: Automakers Stalling on Clean Vehicles: Biden Must Act to Cut Largest Source of U.S. Climate Pollution,” a Dec. 12, 2022 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity. URL: biological

– Alan Kandel

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Last updated on Jan. 18, 2023 at 6:50 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.