By on June 4, 2016

May 2016 average fuel economy

Drivers aren’t getting the same deal at the pumps as they were last winter, and the gas mileage of new vehicles shows it.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say the average sales-weighted fuel economy of new vehicles hit 25.4 miles per gallon in May, the highest figure so far this year. It’s still less than the all-time high set in August 2014, but it shows not every car buyer is going for the thirstiest vehicle they can afford.

U.S. gas prices ended the month of May at an average pump price of $2.33 a gallon, having risen steadily since hitting rock-bottom ($1.70/gallon) in February. That cost is still rising alongside modestly rebounding crude oil prices.

Average fuel economy fell back into a shallow trough late last year as consumers got used to the idea of lower prices at the pump. For many, it was like the 1990s were back, and the Big Three thanked everyone for falling deeper in love with their light-duty pickups and SUVs. The year ended with an average fuel economy of 25.0 mpg

Still, the worldwide oil glut that sent crude prices plunging in 2014 didn’t erase federal CAFE targets, and that can’t be discounted as a factor in the uptick in mileage. After all, a new base Malibu (to throw out just one example) gets better mileage today than it did in a year ago.

[Image: University of Michigan]

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32 Comments on “Average Fuel Economy Rises, So You Know Gas Prices Are Going Up...”

  • avatar

    I buy gas at BJ’s.
    The lowest I ever saw Super Premium Unleaded – during all the screams and panic of low gas leading to armageddon – was $2.20 – here in NYC – but slightly lower in New Jersey.

    Right now I’m paying about $2.60 a gallon for 93 Octane on both of these beasts and averaging about 10 MPG.

    The bigger problem is that driving is so much fun, I can’t simply take straight routes to/from. I end up driving in unnecessary routes just to prolong the driving experience.

    • 0 avatar

      “The bigger problem is that driving is so much fun, I can’t simply take straight routes to/from. I end up driving in unnecessary routes just to prolong the driving experience.”

      This, sir, perfectly describes why I like to travel by automobile. And why I regard EVs as just a tiny niche. To travel in an EV, you have to plot a path that takes you through supercharger stations and such.

      When I travel, I often take the longest and most scenic route. Or the one that’s the most fun to drive.

      • 0 avatar

        Heard at the turn of the 20th century: “This, sir, perfectly describes why I like to travel by carriage. And why I regard motorcars as just a tiny niche. To travel in a motorcar, you have to plot a path that takes you through refueling stations and such.”

      • 0 avatar

        My house is near the JFK supercharger. So long as I set aside 1 hour to recharge – and can find something to do with myself for that period of time, owning a Tesla wouldn’t be a bad experience.

        The real problem would be the winter months when many miles of range can disappear into thin air – or be consumed by the HVAC.

        I had a new electric system installed specifically for recharging our leased Tesla here. But that’s still over an hour worth of wait.

      • 0 avatar

        Given Tesla’s plan to essentially triple the number of stations, this won’t really be an issue in the future, any more than making sure a gas station is nearby on a trip (I usually start hunting at the quarter tank mark myself).

        Besides, this only matters if your “scenic drive” is hundreds of miles. Not speaking for BTSR (heavens!) but for me, I take scenic/longer routes even when running errands – there are some beautiful viaducts and tree-lined canyon runs in this city, which definitely extend my drive but only by 20 mins or so.

        If you have the free time to go on long road trips every weekend aimlessly, more power to you :) I can only manage that a few times a year, which means destination or supercharging planning a few times a year in an EV – not that terrible considering the remaining 340+ days of the year.

      • 0 avatar

        Whiskey you are going to get into another argument with 4 or five folks around here if you dont like EV’s or self driving so that we can save 35k folks per year or some lame junk like that.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t think whiskey cares about those arguments. There will be traffic fatalities no matter what the propulsion, with situations even self-driving models can’t avoid, like a pedestrian suddenly stepping out from between parked cars/trucks.

          The people making those arguments believe technology will create a perfect world, free of human foibles, and history shows they’re very mistaken. Technology is a multiplier, creating new problems and situations never before seen or anticipated.

          • 0 avatar

            “Technology is a multiplier, creating new problems and situations never before seen or anticipated.”

            Brass plaque time.

            But it’s still better than no tech. What do you get then, a camel? *Maybe* time-share in a flying carpet if your uncle has some pull in the shura.

      • 0 avatar

        >> This, sir, perfectly describes why I like to travel by automobile. And why I regard EVs as just a tiny…

        And why is that? That’s exactly what I do in my EV. Plenty of charging on back roads, but I usually don’t need it. Long winding back roads in New England are really EV friendly. Speed limits near the optimum speed for the car, not a lot of stop signs or lights, and sometimes a shorter route than the freeways. In the summer, you can lower the window and hear what’s going on around you.

    • 0 avatar

      Gasoline should be no more than $1.50/gallon right now in the states.

      Turmoil and refined gasoline (rbob) are traded on the commodities exchange, subject to the machinations and manipulation of Wall Street manipulators/speculators/price-fixers, so like every other commodity since the 2000 Commoditization Act (Graham-Leach-Bliley), Americans pay 2x to 5x what they should.

      Anyone who digs deep to do the research will discover that 90% of the working-class/middle-class/tax paying population of the U.S. (abut 60% of the total population) is subsidizing financial actors who manipulate commodity prices (with the free pass given to them by the U.S. DOJ and captured regulatory agencies)l by paying 200% to 500% (as much as 5,000% in the case of prescription meds and healthcare, which are not goods/services commoditized, but are oligarch complexes sanctioned by the gov’t).

      • 0 avatar

        This is the legislation that raised American’s living expenses more than any other single factor (and in many cases, many cumulative factors), in several generations:

        Anytime future’ traders can play financial games with the goods, crops, basic materials, etc. that people need to build, fuel their vehicles, heat their homes, eat, etc., you can rest assured prices will both be volatile and absolutely skyrocket (dramatically outpacing the pace of wage gains) over time, which is exactly what has happened.

        We’re now an economy that is FIRE centric, with perhaps 80% of incremental gains in profits going to less than 12% of the population (and probably 6% to 70% of that overall 80% of gains in profits going to less than 1/2 of 1% of the population).

  • avatar

    If the y axis of the chart began at 0, then it would be obvious that the line is essentially flat.

    Since January 2014, the average has been 25.2 mpg, with a min of 24.5 and a max of 25.8. It hasn’t changed much at all over that period.

    Lesson of the day: When you are presented a graph with a y-axis that does not start at zero, be careful.

    • 0 avatar

      7 years of data, it rises about 25% over the beginning. It’s not a sales chart vs. gas, it appears to be a weighted sales fleet figure which kind of indicates that gas prices are semi-independent (the R-Squared on the regression would likely be sub-20%) of fleet mileage.

      I’m really not sure what they’re trying to argue other than playing out the official TTAC line of being a contrarian bastard because they can. It’s pretty clear that CAFE works given the 25% overall increase in 8 years of data. It’s diminishing returns as it grows clearly, but if our average continues to increase at almost 3% a year (given the baseline of 2007) our average will be 32 MPG in another 8 years though that is unrealistic and we’ll probably see closer to 28 or 29 as the pace of improvement slows and big trucks remain a steady source of income.

      • 0 avatar

        I was referring to this: “Still, the worldwide oil glut that sent crude prices plunging in 2014 didn’t erase federal CAFE targets, and that can’t be discounted as a factor in the uptick in mileage.”

        For periods prior to 2014, the increase was probably driven by fuel prices that were substantially higher than they were prior to the mid-decade oil bubble, with some modest improvement due to CAFE adding technological enhancements that produce incremental gains.

        But since 2014, not much has happened. The market seems to have plateaued, with only modest variations.

        • 0 avatar

          Ah, well that is a different animal all together.

          Again, I would be willing to bring together a decent dataset on it but the regression line is going to pretty much show gas price have a marginal impact on fleet MPG scaling. It’s an issue of what is offered in a longer cycle than the daily price revisions. This is kind of why even bringing them together into an argument is dodgy because we would have to look at quarterly pricing and then distinguish by region to get any kind of comparable numbers.

          For sure, the steady price drop has helped make some buyers decisions easier to go LESS full efficient but with fewer options for worse mileage the line is going to trail upwards. The line doesn’t operate in a free environment, it is limited by hidden factors (mainly in the form of vehicles offered) that can be calculated, but needs to be addressed separately because as it stands, the regression line is pretty much going to put all the variance on CAFE standards and only a marginal amount on gas prices.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I’d also bet wages, production by manufacturers, media influence, etc all impact what people buy and drive.

            Even uban planning does have an impact.

            The same can be said for energy infrastructure. Look at the comment above by BigTrucks. The density of charging stations impact the number of EVs on the road along with the concept socialised EV ownership for the rich.

  • avatar

    Are those CAFE numbers? How about a reference when you post an article?

    • 0 avatar

      I would imagine so, their names are on the graph, though I would agree, referencing their actual research would be a bit more handy than googling it hoping it pops up.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I wouldn’t take the actual miles per gallon as accurate, but basically a measure. Instead of using MPGs the figure should be called CAFE units. This way it wouldn’t be a lie.

      The same goes for MPGs on a vehicle at the car yard, these figures are extremely optimistic. I now do know some will attempt to bullsh!t and make comments on them regularly exceeding EPA and CAFE figures.

      If they do they must the most annoying a$$hole, selfish drivers on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Interesting that an Australian (who is half a planet away from having any experience with EPA MPG numbers) thinks they are BS, whereas Americans find them very representative of real-world economy.

        Of course, I’m one of those annoying drivers who gets better-than-EPA mileage on either of my cars by driving only 10 or 15-over on the highway, and who doesn’t treat the city like a racetrack that’s lined with kids, animals, people doing their shopping, etc.
        Maybe what really bothers Al is that I keep my cars in top shape, check tire pressures, that sort of thing? I’m sure he’ll tell me.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s based upon the combined fuel economy on the window sticker. Why you wouldn’t have assumed that, I don’t know.

    • 0 avatar

      They are not CAFE numbers, which are the unadjusted results of the two original EPA emission cycle tests. They are the combined fuel economy numbers published on new car window stickers, which have been adjusted downwards to approximate actual real world observations. 25.4 mpg on a window sticker is equivalent to about 32.5 mpg CAFE.

    • 0 avatar

      Pch, federal mpg goals are typically presented using CAFE numbers. CAFE was even mentioned in the article. That’s why I didn’t assume they were window sticker numbers.

      Big Al, it’s always nice to hear from you. I’m not sure where we’d be if we didn’t have you to tell us how stupid we are.

      Thanks to everyone else, especially Todd for providing the CAFE and EPA comparison chart. If we really are exceeding 25mpg in EPA numbers, that’s pretty impressive. My car with 23 is holding us back (I average 27, but don’t tell Big Al).

      • 0 avatar

        This has nothing to do with “federal mpg goals.” It’s just data collection, i.e. what consumers are buying. UMTRI is a university research unit that studies transportation.

  • avatar

    Should help the DOW.

  • avatar

    While true, to some small degree, it’s assumed Americans run out and buy that bigger, thirstier, chromed out machine, when fuel prices are low, but Americans mostly just drive more miles when that happens.

  • avatar

    When I had my Z I was paying about $4/gallon for premium…. close to $5 for no ethanol. I sold it for a Civic and gas prices plummeted. I’m thinking of turbocharging it so when I do I will give you guys the heads up as I’m sure gas will skyrocket then.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The data does suggest and prove fuel pricing is influencing at what people buy.

    What does influence fleet FE is wages and the media, ie, pricing forecasts.

    I do believe the US has squandered a great opportunity in raising fuel taxes masking the price increase with the low oil prices. Even if the tax was raised at the Federal level to allow more money to be ploughed into crumbling transport infrastructure.

    With that said I did find Florida’s road infrastructure quite good and the NE in a much poorer condition.

    • 0 avatar

      The roads in the Northeast have always looked almost bombed out. Heavy traffic, especially trucks, and a freeze/thaw climate will do that. The normal 12-15 year lifespan for asphalt paving in the South and West is considerably shorter under heavy loads and harsh winters in the Northeast. Add the expense of detours to maintain that heavy traffic during construction, and most snow belt states don’t have the money to repave every 5-7 years. The least those states should do is drop the sales taxes on suspension components.

  • avatar

    Not true. Please hold your legislators accountable for not having a appropriate life cycle maintenance and rehabilitation schedule for your roads.

  • avatar

    Makes sense that people aren’t automatically going for monster suv beasts…. personally I own an 06 vue with the 3.5 liter and an 06 sentra with a 1.8 liter… my wife wants to drive a newer car in next 6 months, I’m thinking about which car I’d keep….. the vue us “more fun to drive”, but I’m not sure I want to give the extra gas money to the crooked oil companies!!

  • avatar

    With the stunningly low resale prices on Leafs, I’m starting to think that might be a good hedge on oil pricing (assuming you have 2 or 3 other gas powered vehicles to do stuff like haul lots of people or pickup truck duty). It appears 3 yr old / 30,000 miles specimens are literally just a few grand above deluxe golf carts.

    I fit what I’d think would be one of the two primary demographics:

    school kids

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