By on November 11, 2016

2015-chevrolet-suburban-ltz-photo-576439-s-1280x782

The post-recession era was an interesting one. As automakers struggled to cram every last piece of fuel-saving technology into their vehicles, gas prices shot up and grimly stayed put. Engine displacements small enough to inspire locker room bullying were suddenly the mainstream.

Naturally, both corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and sales-weighted fuel economy shot up like U.S. jobs numbers.

America’s rapidly growing lust for light trucks, crossovers and SUVs has been well documented, but until now, the trend has only served to flatline the average gas mileage of the country’s new vehicles. Well, the trend could only go so far before reaching a tipping point.

fuel economy_October-2016

According to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the truck-hungry month of October saw sales-weighted average fuel economy drop by 0.4 miles per gallon — the steepest drop since the oil price crash of late 2014. That puts the average fuel economy at 24.8 mpg, a full 1 mpg lower than the post-recession peak of August 2014.

Put another way, the last time collective gas mileage was this low was in July of 2013.

Of course, the landscape has changed since that long-ago time. Back then, trucks, SUVs and crossovers were only popular. Tried-and-true passenger cars made up the majority of new vehicle market share.

According to TTAC sales guru Tim Cain, passenger cars only made up 40 percent of new vehicle sales volume during the first 10 months of this year. In October? A mere 37 percent. Compare that to 2015’s YTD figure of 44 percent. So yes, 63 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. last month were some form of light truck, van, SUV or crossover.

In Canada, which the University of Michigan isn’t concerned with, that number was actually 66 percent. Traversing the barren wastes that lie outside the boundaries of Toronto requires a vehicle with rugged capability, it seems.

Expect fuel economy figures to change soon, but not because of any sudden advance in technology. The Environmental Protection Agency has changed the methodology behind its gas mileage ratings, with the new numbers appearing on 2017 model year vehicles. Supposedly, this should result in a more accurate estimate of a vehicle’s fuel economy.

Those figures will be retroactively added to historical fuel economy charts starting next month, the Transportation Research Institute claims.

[Images: General Motors; University of Michigan]

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85 Comments on “Okay, Now America’s Dislike of Cars is Starting to Show...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    24.8 is pretty good, stop complainin.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Dad did the old “back of the envelope” MPG calculations during long family trips. Crossing the Great Smoky Mountains (in 1991) on the interstate (including several sections where overdrive had to be disengaged just to maintain speed) the old 1987 Cutlass (307 V8, Quadrajet) returned a disappointing 14 mpg.

      I think a new Tahoe would beat that at a much higher speed. We should stand back for a min and appreciate how good we’ve got it.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I think even with the 4-auto in the GMT800 generation, I could get 19 or perhaps 20 on a long journey like that. And now they’ve got what, 6 or 8 speeds, and more power.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          Yes, you can with the old transmission, takes some work though. The new six speed I believe will knock back 20 pure highway all day long.

          I average 16.6 combined.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I have been getting 15.5 in a tank with about 85% stop-go driving on my work commute at 40-45 mph.

            I know it’s not good to run it short distances like that, so whenever I need to go anywhere on the highway it’s now my go-to.

          • 0 avatar
            Frylock350

            My Silverado on a flat highway with the cruise set to 64mph will return 23mpg all day long. Curb weight is very similar to a Tahoe.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        I’m not complaining. My current truck has 38% more HP and gets 22% better mpg than my 1990 F250.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      >24.8 is pretty good, stop complainin.

      Until $4.00/gal fuel prices return.

  • avatar
    SD 328I

    People don’t like small cars. Even in Europe where prices are kept artificially high, crossover SUVs are starting to take over.

    Even when gas prices here in the US were already still historically high just a few years ago, the trend to trucks and SUVs was already happening again.

    Now that prices are even lower, of course people will buy what they prefer. The difference now is that the common sedan, the meat and potatoes of the car market is being replaced by car-based crossovers, which have good mpg but not as good as normal cars.

    Factor in financial mechanisms now in the oil industry that will keep oil prices low and a new administration looking to lower CARB standards and goals, expect these trends to continue.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Many CUVs to be seen in Switzerland, probably half of what I saw.

    • 0 avatar
      Speed3

      Whatever I’ll take a Miata over some bloated wagon they call a crossover anyday. Stupid people buying stupid cars.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        The Miata is the stupid car here. $30K for something that barely seats two, has no trunk, is loud and unrefined, and can barely get away from a _CURRENT_YEAR minivan at a stoplight? All to dance down winding roads 99% of the population either doesn’t have access to or time for. You must be a teenager.

      • 0 avatar
        Edsel

        You might think differently in an accident where mass matters. Some people buy larger vehicles because size can be a safety device too. God speed in your Miata, avoid impacting anything bigger.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          Owning a Miata or similar more or less requires owning another car in addition. Cars have gotten expensive to the point where this is not an option for most people.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          @edsel:God speed in your Miata, avoid impacting anything bigger.

          And god speed in a Suburban. Avoid impacting anything larger.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIDzHw-HK1A

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Edsel,
          On the other side of coin it could be said the little Mazda has a far greater chance of avoidance. The lumbering pickup will hit an obstacle, whilst the Miata skirts around it.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Lol, yes, good handling cars never get in accidents.

            People need to get out of their lumbering awful unsafe F-150s and all drive midsize trucks. Then nobody will crash! And they can then tow more than a single SkiDo!

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Speed3, many consumers are choosing car-based crossovers instead of sedans. Both are capable of carrying 4 people and their luggage, a job the Miata can’t do. A better comparison would be boxy 5-door car like a Volkswagen GTI vs. a small crossover with more ground clearance, but no more usable interior space.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        So, taking the whole family out to eat in the Miata will only require 5 or 6 trips. Seems very unstupid.

      • 0 avatar
        incautious

        Speed 3 says “Whatever I’ll take a Miata over some bloated wagon they call a crossover any day. Stupid people buying stupid cars.”
        You obviously don’t own a home or are married with two or three kids and a dog. Try taking 3 kids home from football with all their gear. Try fitting that nice 60 inch flat screen in your Miata. As a matter of fact for it size, a Miata IS a gas guzzler. That thing should get 50MPG based on its weight and passenger capacity. You obviously have never driven an CX5 which get about the same MPG as you Miata while much or practical. And is fun to drive!

  • avatar
    seth1065

    when gas goes back up Cafe will go up as many will trade their suv for cuv’s , simple as that , cheap gas and bad gas mileage goes together.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You’re right about the correlation of mileage and prices, but those prices might stay down for years. The Saudis have bet the farm on knocking American shale oil producers out, but they may have miscalculated, thanks to innovation and the peculiarities of the Permian Basin.

      Innovation has dramatically reduced the production price of Bakken crude, lowering costs from $60-$65 to $32-$35 per barrel. That’s barely break even at today’s prices, but the producers are still trying new things.

      The Permian in Texas is the current threat. A large chunk of the Permian, the Spraberry trend, was bypassed for easier to access oil, and lack of the technology get at the multiple layers of oil-bearing rock. Horizontal drilling now allows multiple layers to be accessed from a single wellhead, using the same pipe distribution.

      One expert estimated costs there at $13-$17 per barrel, allowing US production from there alone to increase by 4 million barrels per day. That’s the permanent increase in world supply that has caused prices to drop. The Bakken may reduce production in the face of lower prices, but the Permian can turn a profit at even lower prices.

      The only thing that could goose prices is higher taxes on motor fuels to re-fill the highway trust fund. Billions will be needed to repair/replace the thousands of substandard bridges that have been neglected, not to mention many miles of interstate concrete pavement that are over 50 years old and past their usable life. What are the odds politicians will turn to higher road taxes?

  • avatar
    Ermel

    This only goes to show that the American approach to enhance gas mileage — mandate more economical vehicles — is less effective than the European one: make fuel more costly. Rather than switch to eco-cars, Americans escaped the regulation by switching to trucks. Europeans are of course free to do likewise, but it isn’t any cheaper to drive a big SUV or truck than a big sedan or minivan. Hence, less huge vehicles on the roads, and good reasons to buy fuel-sippers in any size category.

    Cue the “but that’s communism!” yells in 3 … 2 …

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      This, exactly. Abolish CAFE and replace it with a straightforward gas tax, phased in gradually. More environmental benefit and more freedom at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        Speed3

        Its also a more efficient method too.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Any meaningful gas tax would have to take decades to fully implement. Urban high-density housing and mass transportation infrastructure needs one hell of a long time to catch up to Europe.

        Otherwise, WTF??

        • 0 avatar
          Ermel

          Having already wasted decades in which it could have been done is no excuse for not starting now.

          • 0 avatar
            Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

            You know, Ermel… you’re just one letter shy of being “The Cutest Kitten in the Whole World!”

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          One decade should suffice if we implement a real infrastructure program. But what we would need is assurance from the wealthier big cities that they’d allow more housing development quickly. Right now people are being forced to live in the sticks and commute horrible distances by car because tight development restrictions in the city have created housing shortages and high prices.

          In big cities that are still largely poor — think Cleveland and St. Louis — a big gas tax would be a massive spur to real-estate development and construction and would rejuvenate the local economies.

          The losers would be exurban 1-acre-lot subdivision communities.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            ” But what we would need is assurance from the wealthier big cities that they’d allow more housing development quickly.”

            It needs to come from the state level, where it ought to be in the first place. As long as the household level is off the table, of course.

            The wealth in wealthy cities, are to a large extent a direct result of pa/grandpa winning the where-to-live lottery, and subsequent use of zoning laws to pull up the ladder. All while cheering on Alan, Benny and Janet to rob the periphery by debasement for the benefit of the ladder pulling lotteristas. Not much chance of a movement to give up such a privilege arising from within that camp.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Stuki,
            I also believe the Federal government has responsibility, especially when areas like the “Rust Belt” exist.

            Trump can’t fix the rust belt. Trump can’t bring back low skilled process jobs. Trump can come up with ways to encourage the movement of people out of these “dead” regions.

            Manufacturing is going the way of agriculture. Agriculture 100 or so years ago employed over 20% of the work force. What is it now, less than 5%? Couple this with massive productivity gains you will see the current decay in manufacturing jobs. Protection will only increase the pain.

        • 0 avatar
          Old Man Pants (nee Kenmore)

          “Urban high-density housing”

          You eat with that mouth?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The US will never have European-style fuel taxes because Americans would never tolerate them. They would be opposed by many liberals as well as most conservatives.

        The US will never get rid of CAFE. The world is moving in the opposite direction: Many developed countries have fuel economy standards now, none of them are getting rid of them, and those that don’t have them yet probably will.

        This idea is akin to promising a free puppy to everyone in America: It’s pure fantasy and it’s hardly even worth mentioning. It would be more helpful to come up with a reality-based plan.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          @Pch101

          Both high fuel taxes and CAFE standards are foolish ways to achieve fuel economy, as if it isn’t obvious by the result of both regulatory regimes.

          We should get rid of both. Hopefully, Trump is drawing up plans to scrap or revise CAFE 2025. Terrible piece of legislation written to address our $300B deficit for consumptive oil.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          A sensible plan would be to impose a carbon tax, coupled with a refundable income tax credit similar to the earned income tax credit. Gas at five or six bucks a gallon provides the necessary market incentives, and the refundable tax credit keeps it from hurting the middle class, and can even provide a boost to those trying to get into the middle class. The same system would also provide utilities with an incentive to use cleaner fuels. And all this without direct regulation. But I’m pretty sure Al Gore ideas are gonna go even less far in the next administration than the current one. Apparently Trump wants Myron Ebell for head of the EPA.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      Ermel,
      Also large vehicle production is only competitive in the US. All regulations and protective measures will will be biased towards large vehicle manufacture in the US.

      We have a similar breakdown of vehicles here in Oz, so this large(r) vehicle market is not uniquely American. The EU is seeing a larger percentage of CUV/SUV and pickup numbers.

      I read the other day Australia’s pickup market per capita is greater than the US and this is with only midsizers. This also leads me to believe the US midsize pickup segment has room for much more growth. I think the US now sits in 3rd position.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        A gas tax raise is not going to work on the national level and not very widespread on the state level because it has opponents on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives see it as a strike against their energy policies and liberals see it as being very regressive against low income people.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Europeans may be OK with it, the small crappy diesels, horrible smog, living on top of each other, packed in and rubbing butts with strangers on buses/trains, and the over all lack of mobility freedom, but probably not.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            Two things I remember Paris was all the cigarette butts (and trash in general) everywhere and the horrid air quality. I think that trip took a couple of years off my life. Europeans don’t believe in UV protection at the beach either.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Carlson Fan.
            I just returned from Paris.

            It seems where the tourist are densest is where most garbage is.

            I have 3 cousins in Paris, where they live its not as you described. Go to La Defense, the commercial/business hub. It’s a damn sight cleaner than most any major global city

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            I suspect if all the tourists left, the city would still be the same $hit hole where trash is concerned. We were in a public park close to the Eiffel tower and the broken glass from empty wine bottles was everywhere. It was pretty gross. I’m from the midwest. We treat our public parks and spaces a lot better than anywhere I was in Paris. Beautiful city with incredible architecture. Too bad the people that live there don’t treat it with a little more respect.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Carlson Fan,
            Again, the Eiffel Tower? The only French near it are tourist workers.

            My cousins rately venture into the tourist ateas of Paris. I’d say without a shadow of doubt if where you live had the same tourist population it would be the same.

            You can empathise with Parisians for their dislike (arrogance) for tourist. The bulk of them are from the US.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            Sorry but people in the US don’t smoke anymore like those in Europe. The cigarette butts that littered the streets of the city everywhere came out of the mouths of the slobs that live there. And trust me the people sitting in that park drinking wine where all the broken glass came from weren’t US tourists. Not even close. I’ve been to plenty of other “tourist” places and none were as filthy as Paris.

          • 0 avatar
            RobertRyan

            @Carlson Fan
            Mine is Los Angeles. They must hand out Gas masks to the residents,
            Only place I know where the hills disappear completely at 5pm, because the place is so polluted
            Must admit Paris is nowhere as clean as other European Cities.
            There are a lot of very clean other ones though

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            RobertRyan,
            It’s according where you are in Paris. NY is just as dirty.

            Where I grew up in Cape May County would be deemed an impoverished area in Australia with a significant welfare dependent population. Unkeep yards with little interest in gardens, a coat of paint. But hey, most yards have what is likely a new(ish) lease car/SUV/pickup.

            This is in the NE. I can see why there are so many disconented in the US. We have disparity, but not to the extent of the US. Our middle class is much larger.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            @Robert Ryan – You’ll never get me to defend LA. There’s a reason I’ve never visited there and could care less if I ever do.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          LA’s San Gabriel Mountains may disappear on the worst days, some 20 miles away, but flights are never cancelled by smog like European cities, Shanghai, Hong Kong, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Yes, the sooner we crush all full-size pickups, all our problems will be fixed!

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I don’t think it’s just low fuel pricing increasing CUV/SUV and pickup numbers.

    The above vehicles I mentioned have improved their driving experience and they are versatile.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The next generation of crossovers will have more hybrid options, so people will be able to have their space and better mileage also.

    • 0 avatar
      rev0lver

      I went from a 2006 Corolla to a 2016 Rav4 hybrid. I’m getting about the same mileage as I got in the Corolla, maybe even a bit better.

      Plus more power, more room and AWD.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        With ten years of progress between vehicles, you ought to see *much* better mileage than you did before. The progress however is being eaten up by the added bulk and aerodynamic drag that comes with going to trucks/SUVs/CUVs.

        • 0 avatar
          rev0lver

          Well I was buying a larger vehicle regardless. It’s also more capable, has more power, is much safer yet still manages to best the gas mileage of a vehicle that is almost 1500 lighter. I’d call that progress.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            rev0lver,
            Its good to see a new name here on TTAC.

            Capability is only capability when used.

            A Camry is as capable as a F-150 if it is used as a daily driver like many pickups.

            So, what some term as capability can also be called waste. Because the potential is never or at best realised.

            I own a pickup …… because I can afford the waste.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            “So, what some term as capability can also be called waste. Because the potential is never or at best realised.”

            So much wasted intelligence……… or are you at max capability?

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            “…manages to best the gas mileage of a vehicle that is almost 1500 lighter. I’d call that progress.”

            Toyota has set an example to follow to keep the CUV/SUV craze from decimating average MPG.

            Too bad the upcoming administration may try to gut the progress made.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    There was a time when I thought America’s next pickup truck was going to be a Corolla with a utility trailer. As long as it’s 2 bucks a gallon or less, that’s not happening. And right now, 50 bucks looks a lot more like a ceiling for crude than a floor.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    If crossovers are becoming more efficient then why buy a smaller sedan with less head and legroom and smaller windows. If a compact crossover gets not that much less mpgs than a compact sedan or what a compact sedan use to get then most will opt for the compact crossover.

    I do think that while fuel prices are low that an extra federal fuel tax should be added with the extra tax specifically for road and bridge construction and maintenance and not used for mass transit, bike trails, or parking lots for municipal and nonprofits. Even an additional tax of 10 to 20 cents would probably be enough. An expiration date or sunset provision could be put on this additional tax.

  • avatar
    raph

    Sigh…. if only legislation could be passed that permanently mandated brodozers and semi-brodozers be relegated to the right lane only under pain of death.

    I really hate it when you get some large vehicle blocking your line of sight down the road forcing you to deaccelerate so you can gain enough distance between you and the mobile wall in order to get a good line of sight. Which invariably allows enough room for some thimble headed twit to park another oversized vehicle in your path and again blocking your line of sight.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    It’s not that people dislike cars, it’s that CUVs/SUVs are better for most people, especially families. Got kids? Strollers, car seats for infants to pull in and out, all the random crap that kids require when you go anywhere longer than 10 minutes? Any of you ever tried to put a double stroller in a trunk? Yeah, that’s why CUVs and SUVs are better than cars. Yes, minivans, I know. If Volvo or Lexus made a minivan, I’d have one.

    We have an XC90. I would love an S90 for myself to replace my Taurus SHO. But aside from the fact that the SHO is long paid for and I don’t want a car payment, an S90 is impractical for our family of six (2 kids, 2 dogs).

    Before we had kids, I used to think people were crazy for buying a LWB full size SUV for a family of 5. Here I am contemplating a Yukon Denali XL or a ‘Slade ESV in a few years to replace the XC90 in a few years because it ain’t big enough and I need something to tow our trailer with since I sold my F-150.

  • avatar
    CT_Jake

    This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think the reason sedans are losing sales and CUVs are up is the recent trends in design. The “4 door coupe” design may give designers the interior volume they need but it renders the back seat newarly useless. Trunks have a similar problem. It you try to put anything other than skis or golf bags in there, it’s damn near impossible. A friend drove me to Best Buy to a microwave. The box wouldn’t fit in the trunk or back seat. It rode in the front seat while I sat in the back. A CUV would have been useful. Maybe this is intentional by automakers because CUVs are more profitable. Too bad Americans have a negative image of station wagons. I was recently in Italy and there were a lot around and attractive too. Anyway, that’s how I see it.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      All the trunk volume in the world is useless if you can’t get anything through the door. The trunks are decently sized, but the “4 door coupe”/fastback styling gives them mail slots for trunklids. Ford already makes a liftback version of the Mondeo/EU Fusion–why not just bite the bullet and bring it to NA?

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    The aerodynamic issue is easy to fix, make wagons. And no, not something jacked up with tons of clearance. A bona fide wagon.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Agree that the coupe like design of today’s sedan’s limits headroom and trunk space making them less usable for most. I doubt that most would want a wagon though because one of the desirable features of today’s crossovers are easy entry and exit of drivers and passengers. Most wagons are extended versions of sedans and would have the same issues of passenger access and visibility. Today’s cars sit very low and for many are much harder to get in and out of. Also the thicker pillars and smaller windows in most of today’s cars make it harder to see out. I don’t believe that it is a dislike of cars as much as the design of today’s cars make them less practical and less usable to most.

  • avatar
    Lynn Ellsworth

    Yeah, I don’t care if Florida goes under and rising seas will help flush out the holding ponds in North Carolina’s pig farms but I will miss Cape Cod.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      I just read the Miami Herald. Your dream will occur very soon with the moon passing closest to Earth in 69 years.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      The newly revised “worst case” scenario for sea rise are now no threat to Florida or anywhere else. As they have been every two years, they will be revised downward again soon, as science finally applies the scientific method to climate change, and realizes that it’s not a significant problem at all. It amazes me how few people are even paying attention to the science anymore. It’s become a religion.

  • avatar
    Commando

    Just finished an 80 mph long distance jaunt in my 1976 New Yorker 440.
    8 mpg.
    Make America Great Again.

  • avatar
    Lynn Ellsworth

    “America will never have a gas tax like Europeans because”:

    Trump is going to cut inheritance taxes, rich people’s taxes, and corporate taxes and then rebuild our infrastructure. So who is going to pay for the infrastructure improvements (which we do need)? Higher gas taxes or will an enormous debt be passed on to your kids?

    When Trump’s 4 year old type emotions feel slighted and starts a nuclear war we will really need infrastructure repairs.

    Side note: If that NJ guy gets any position in the new administration can you imagine the future traffic jams when his ego gets bruised?

  • avatar
    SuperCarEnthusiast

    I see a lot more full size SUV on the roads now! My neighbor just got a new Tahoe Premier – $76K! I saving for a full size SUV too! It will be a few years but be worth it!

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