New Vehicles Are More Powerful and Efficient Than Ever, but the Greenest Automaker Only Sells Gas Models: Study

new vehicles are more powerful and efficient than ever but the greenest automaker

Every year, the Environmental Protection Agency tabulates all available data for new vehicles sold in the United States and prints colorful graphs showing the country’s progress — or in some cases, regression — in key areas of autodom. Areas like average fuel economy, vehicle weight, horsepower, and emissions.

It’s a tradition dating back to the heady, wide-lapelled days of 1975.

The most recent report on light-duty vehicles in the U.S. shows definite, albeit incremental, progress towards many environmental goals. While the auto landscape may not be advancing at the rate preferred by many environmentalists, urbanists, and the Tesla fan base, there’s cause for celebration within the report’s pages. There’s also a special prize in there reserved just for Mazda.

Why Mazda? Well, the slightly offbeat, lower-volume automaker managed to earn the title of greenest vehicle fleet without a single hybrid or electric car in its portfolio.

In terms of average adjusted fuel economy, Mazda’s 2016 fleet topped all others with a rating of 29.6 miles per gallon. Sales-weighted carbon dioxide emissions of 301 grams per mile also topped all other brands, including second-place Hyundai (the most-improved automaker for 2016).

While Mazda, with a helping hand from Toyota, plans to enter the electrified arena in the near future, its love of high-compression four-cylinders and lack of trucks or very large (or larger and strong-selling) SUVs earns it the top spot on the tree-hugging podium.

Dead last for both fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions was truck-heavy Fiat Chrysler. Compared to 2015, the average thirstiness of FCA’s fleet increased by 0.3 mpg, with CO2 emissions rising by 4 grams per mile. Also falling lower in the rankings for 2016 was Honda, Nissan, and BMW, all of which saw extra SUV volume in the last year with full data. Overall, the industry improved by 0.1 mpg and 2 grams per mile.

If that increase sounds pretty low, blame the consumer. The average fuel economy of all five classes of vehicle — car, crossover, body-on-frame SUV, truck, and minivan — rose in 2016, in some cases by a significant amount (both types of utility vehicle hit a record high, with pickups tying a 1986 record), but buyers took home many more large vehicles than the previous year. Combined market share of car-based and truck-based SUVs rose to 41 percent in 2016. Thus, the evolving mix decreased the fleetwide benefit of improvements made within each segment.

One thing that didn’t change in 2016 was average vehicle weight. Stable at 4,035 pounds, the figure belies the fact that the average weight of a new truck dropped by 24 pounds (thank you, midsize class and aluminum F-150), while cars shed, on average, 23 pounds. Average horsepower rose by one stallion to 230 hp.

As trucks and SUVs make up more of the mix, the EPA predicts an average vehicle weight increase of 9 pounds for 2017, plus a 2 hp boost in average engine output. At the same time, it projects a 0.5 mpg average increase, and 7 fewer grams of CO2 per mile.

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  • Jeremiah Mckenna Jeremiah Mckenna on Jan 19, 2018

    Can we see another irrelevant article/study on the same subject, only removing the trucks from the line up of those companies that have trucks in them? Chrysler only sells two vehicles but Ram only has trucks, Dodge doesn't have trucks, but has all of those power houses. Chevrolet has several to choose from when you remove the truck line up, but GMC only has a few cross overs when you remove the truck line up. Toyota, Nissan, Honda also have trucks(even though a lot don't consider the Ridgeline a truck, it still has an open bed. The only companies I can think of that don't have a truck would be Hyundai, Mercedes(F/S vans though), BMW, Jaguar. How would the end be when the game is fair?

    • Brn Brn on Jan 20, 2018

      If you can define the parameters of a contest, you can pre-define the winner.

  • PandaBear PandaBear on Jan 19, 2018

    I don't think Mazda is intentionally doing that, but rather they have no budget building trucks and SUVs that makes a lot of money and has to settle for the low margin high mpg cars.

  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.
  • Dlc65688410 Please stop, we can't take anymore of this. Think about doing something on the Spanish Pegaso.
  • MaintenanceCosts A few bits of context largely missing from this article:(1) For complicated historical reasons, the feds already end up paying much of the cost of buying new transit buses of all types. It is easier legally and politically to put capital funds than operating funds into the federal budget, so the model that has developed in most US agencies is that operational costs are raised from a combination of local taxes and fares while the feds pick up much of the agencies' capital needs. So this is not really new spending but a new direction for spending that's been going on for a long time.(2) Current electric buses are range-challenged. Depending on type of service they can realistically do 100-150 miles on a charge. That's just fine for commuter service where the buses typically do one or two trips in the morning, park through the midday, and do one or two trips in the evening. It doesn't work well for all-day service. Instead of having one bus that can stay out from early in the morning until late at night (with a driver change or two) you need to bring the bus back to the garage once or twice during the day. That means you need quite a few more buses and also increases operating costs. Many agencies are saying for political reasons that they are going to go electric in this replacement cycle but the more realistic outcome is that half the buses can go electric while the other half need one more replacement cycle for battery density to improve. Once the buses can go 300 miles in all weather they will be fine for the vast majority of service.(3) With all that said, the transition to electric will be very good. Moving from straight diesel to hybrid already cut down substantially on emissions, but even reduced diesel emissions cause real public health damage in city settings. Transitioning both these buses and much of the urban truck fleet to electric will have measurable and meaningful impacts on public health.