Americans Get Most Mileage Out Of Foreign Cars

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

When April sales data came out, a lot of noise was made of the shift towards gasoline-sipping small cars. Shrill voices feted sales of electric cars, which look like a rounding error, as a win in the war on terror. As so often, the truth is different. The new cars that hit the road in April get, on average, slightly less mileage (23.3 mpg) than those sold in March (23.4 mpg). If the war on terror would honestly be waged on dealer lots, then the true heroes would be foreign mercenaries, with Americans occupying rear echelon slots.

“In April, we saw a slight increase in sales of trucks and SUVs, which factored into the decrease in the actual fuel economy of cars sold” said Jesse Toprak, Vice President of Market Intelligence at Each month, the Santa Monica, CA, company compiles the actual fuel economy numbers of then light vehicles sold in that month on a sales-weighted basis. TrueCar calls this number TrueMPG.

Average MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYHyundai27.626.01.6Volkswagen26.825.21.6Toyota25.523.71.8Honda25.224.21.0Nissan23.422.60.8Industry23.322.21.1Ford22.121.11.0GM21.521.20.3Chrysler20.018.41.6

Compared to April 2011 (22.2 mpg), the average of all cars sold is up by more than a gallon, reflecting changes in technology and buying patterns. The leaders of the list improved more than the laggards. Again, as measured by what is actually bought and sold, America’s most fuel efficient cars are not American. The Detroit 3 rank below industry average. Chrysler has the worst showing. GM has the most measly increase in MPG. Ford is reaping the results of its fuel economy focus.

Average Car MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYToyota31.028.62.4Hyundai29.327.02.3Honda27.927.40.5Volkswagen27.626.70.9Industry27.025.51.5Nissan26.524.91.6Ford26.325.40.9GM25.124.40.7Chrysler22.821.61.2

TrueCar breaks out is TrueMPG in a multitude of ways. Looking at the data by car and by truck does not change the overall picture much. In the car category, Toyota moves to the top.

Average Truck MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYHyundai22.822.50.3Honda22.420.71.7Volkswagen21.820.51.3Toyota19.519.50Industry19.318.40.9Nissan19.218.50.7GM19.118.80.3Ford18.816.62.2Chrysler17.617.7-0.1

Measured by (all types of) trucks alone, Hyundai reigns supreme, whereas Chrysler sells the most fuelly oinkers.

Average Small Car MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYToyota35.733.12.5Ford32.228.63.6Honda32.229.82.0Industry31.929.22.7Volkswagen31.329.42.1Nissan30.728.51.9Hyundai30.429.81.3GM30.327.72.5Mazda29.726.03.7Subaru28.322.26.1Mitsubishi25.326.1-0.8Chrysler25.024.50.7

An even thinner slicing of the data even further, finally brings respect to a Detroit maker. Ford is above average in the Small Car discipline, which is led by Toyota.

Average Midsize Car MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYVolkswagen29.324.64.7Toyota28.724.44.3Hyundai27.726.31.4Ford26.825.51.3Industry26.425.11.3Honda26.025.90.1GM25.825.50.3Nissan25.123.51.6Suzuki25.124.90.2Mazda24.723.80.9Mitsubishi24.324.30.0Subaru24.324.10.2Chrysler24.023.90.1

The midsize car category is in the hands of Germans, Japanese, and Koreans, with Ford in place four.

Average Large Truck MPGManufacturerApr ’12Apr ’11YoYFord17.416.21.2Honda17.216.90.3GM17.117.7-0.6Industry16.816.40.4Chrysler15.816.2-0.4Toyota15.415.6-0.2Nissan14.314.20.1

At last, two Detroit makers above average, in the discipline that usually delivers abysmal mileage: Ford sells the most large trucks with the best mileage. GM, which had led this discipline a year ago, loses 0.6 miles and falls back to place three.

If you miss your favorite data view, go over to TrueCar, which gives you a few more.

TrueCars measures its TrueMPG using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings based on monthly automotive sales-weighted data. Calculations start at the trim level, taking into account EPA fuel economy data including engine size and drivetrain that affect a vehicle’s MPG ratings; the sales share from each trim level is then calculated to create an average for each model. Brand level data is calculated by the sales share of each model and the manufacturer data is then based on the share of each brand.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Daveainchina Daveainchina on May 06, 2012

    Thank you for slicing that down. I'm curious why is BMW and Mercedes not on the list? Especially given the passion (BMW especially) these brands garner. Also is the VW, is that VW only or does that include Audi? Any chance of breaking these down by brands.. ie instead of GM, how about Chevy/Buick/Cadillac. Dodge/Chrysler/Ram. VW/Audi? etc. Still thank for the further breakdown. Seems to me that GM and Chrysler need to get their act together and start going on a fuel diet.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 06, 2012

    I like data, but this information is lost on Americans because we are not collectivists. Nobody gives a hoot which mfr has the most MPG, or how their CAFE number is going. We only care about the car we're driving, or shopping for. Making those numbers change is somebody else's problem, not mine.

    • Redav Redav on May 07, 2012

      Been said many times, many places. Apparently no one cares.

  • Slavuta The question was, "does it make sense for Elon...?" I don't know why people jumped into conclusions in this comment section. My answer is this - if he does it, it makes sense to him. He knows better than any of us here. May be with his donations he can become an ambassador to an important state or secretary of energy, or chief of NASA. This is how America works. Donate $1m - ambassador to Poland, $3m - japan, $5M - Germany, etc. $20,000 could buy you Kenya or something
  • CanadaCraig We should be able to give comments a 'dislike' or 'thumbs down'. We're not 6 years old. I'm sure we cope if someone doesn't 'like' our comment.
  • Dartdude He knows that a Trump economy is a great opportunity to sell more cars (EV,ICE). Compare both terms and Trumps is the winner by a long shot.
  • Michael S6 Somewhat shocking that Tesla has maintained its sky high stock valuation. The faithful continue to have unshakeable faith in Musk. Tesla models are in dire need of redesign to be competitive although the model 3 recently got a refresh. I test drove a model S six months ago and it's was very nice driving car. However, the interior was very underwhelming in quality of materials and design. There is absence of physical controls such as a turning stalk, and the rear seat was uncomfortable. Tesla would have been in much better shape if they redesigned its current models to face the competition, rather than spending so much money creating a Cybertruck.
  • Jalop1991 I'm not sure why anyone cares what Elon or any other individual thinks in this regard.