By on March 7, 2019

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Chances are, the vehicle you drove 10 or 20 years ago returned worse fuel economy than the one sitting in your driveway today. Significantly worse fuel economy.

While this may not be true if you went from strapped Corolla owner to affluent Navigator enthusiast over the past decade or so, it’s true for the average vehicle sold today. In a much-cited report on fleet fuel economy and emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency claims new vehicles hit a record in 2017, with a significant MPG bump looking likely for 2018.

In 2017, the last year with complete data, the EPA claims the average fuel economy of a new light-duty vehicle was 24.9 mpg — a 0.2 mpg increase from the previous year. Small potatoes, some might say, but fuel efficiency hit something of a plateau earlier this decade after the engine downsizing that came into vogue after the recession collided with the crossover craze.

Preliminary data from 2018 shows an even greater increase of 0.5 mpg, pushing average fleetwide fuel economy to 25.4 mpg. (Which sounds like a dream to younger Steph, whose 93-horsepower Plymouth suffered from severe circulation and breathing issues.)

The agency’s data shows carbon dioxide emissions fell by 3 grams per mile to 357 g/mi, the lowest per-vehicle emissions on record. That’s a 23 percent decrease from 2004, a year where fuel economy sunk to the lowest point since the late 1980s. Predictably, emissions also rose to a recent-era high point in 2004. The 2017 MPG figure is a 29 percent improvement (+5.6 mpg) from that earlier year.

2017 Subaru Impreza Indiana Assembly Plant - Image: Subaru

So everything’s going swimmingly, right? Not exactly. As the Trump administration pushes for an easing of Obama-era corporate average fuel economy requirements, and as automakers find themselves caught in the middle of a Feds vs. California (and allies) fight, the rate of MPG increase isn’t fast enough to meet future targets. That’s the assessment of the EPA, a body whose motivations are now regarded with suspicion.

“Today’s report shows that while the auto industry continues to increase fuel economy, there are legitimate concerns about the ability to cost-effectively achieve the Obama administration’s standards in the near future,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement.

The White House wants new standards to take effect for the 2021 model year, with a lower ceiling for fuel economy going forward from that point. It works out to a CAFE figure of 37 mpg versus the 47 mpg envisioned by the Obama administration back at the dawn of the decade.

That’s a battle that’s yet to reach its conclusion.

Ram 1500

In the meantime, we can judge automakers on individual action. As consumers ditched cars for crossovers and SUVs in increasing numbers over the past several years, efficiency gains slowed, held back by weight and aerodynamics. The greater the light truck mix in an automaker’s lineup, the smaller the gains. So it’s no surprise to see that Fiat Chrysler boasts the highest overall fuel economy and emissions of all mainstream automakers.

In the five-year span from 2012 to 2017, FCA’s average real-world fuel economy rose only slightly, from an already rock-bottom 20.1 mpg to 21.2 mpg. General Motors and Ford round out the (big) bottom three, at 22.9 mpg each. Ford’s fleetwide MPG average rose only 0.2 mpg in that time frame.

The only automaker to actually lose ground on the MPG field was Toyota, whose average fuel economy slipped from 25.5 to 25.3 mpg. New crossovers and old trucks can take much of the blame. Other companies made large gains, including top-ranked Honda, which rose from 26.3 mpg in 2012 to 29.4 mpg in 2017. Mazda’s Skyactiv engines helped that automaker place second with 29.0 mpg in 2017. Hyundai holds third place at 28.6 mpg.

The winner for most improved gas mileage goes to Subaru, which saw a 3.5 mpg gain between 2012 and 2017. One wonders what the 2018 addition of the Ascent midsize crossover will do for its results.

Hungry for other stats? Average vehicle horsepower rose 11 percent between 2004 and  2017, and vehicle footprint grew 2 percent between 2008 and 2017. Vehicle weight remained stable during that time.

[Images: Ford, Subaru, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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19 Comments on “MPG Update: We’re Getting Better, Just Not Quickly Enough to Please the Eco Crowd...”

  • avatar

    True. I’ve never known the word “enough” to be in the Eco crowd’s vocabulary.

    We are currently living in some impressive times of the ICE gasoline engine. The impressive times for diesels disappeared with Tier-3.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right about that, 100%. The elephant in the room is why is anyone paying even a shred of attention to a mob of shrieking moonbats who represent microscopic buying power? The abysmal failure in the marketplace of high mpg eco-blobs ought to tell us something. Those greenies are a loud, tantrum throwing, diaper filling minority that has zilch in the way of influencing the market with what counts: dollars in hand.

      • 0 avatar

        The left is doing the bidding of a number of billionaires whose goal is the elimination of the middle class and then a billion or two people who are wasting space on their planet. That’s why the media and politicians give such weight to their misanthropic soldiers.

        • 0 avatar

          Keep um’ stupid and keep um’ poor and dependent, they will be your slaves forever. It has worked for every King, Queen, Dictator, Centralized Religion and Ruling Oppressive system since the dawn of time.

        • 0 avatar

          And who exactly do the right work for again? Voted in a corporate shill for president whose main goal is the please other corporate shills through corporate welfare. Was the bailout not enough? How about those plants Ford and GM are building in ‘Murica?

          The lesser of two jerks, I’ll take the green hippie crowd. The trees they whine about provide oxygen for the windbag prez. And his sycophantic Twitter followers

          • 0 avatar
            GM JUNK

            Look everyone, the new green deal and its moron socialist NPCs have arrived. Arent you guys busy passing bills to keep yourselves from being racist? LMFAO.

          • 0 avatar

            TakeshiHonda your points are well taken by me, but I’ve learned not to comment on anything remotely political on here. While the editorial board and authors present a range of perspectives (why I read this site), the comments sections are quickly overrun with right-wing nutjobs who don’t even understand the technology they brag about (“Mine’s got a Hemi!”), much less how they’re being fed a line about the products they buy by manufacturers who would still be producing crap like they did in the 70s and 80s without any regulation. It’s a lot like how the NRA stokes fear and has it’s members fooled into believing they represent them, rather than the manufacturers they actually do. Every issue is black and white for the peanut gallery in the comments section; the wouldn’t understand the word “nuance” if they looked it up in the dictionary. Try to point out a caveat and you’ll be vilified with insults by the knuckle-dragging crowd while they don their tinfoil hats and lash out against another perceived government conspiracy.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow Mopar! Stereotype much?

    • 0 avatar

      Is the word “enough” in either side’s vocabulary? I know I could incite outrage by stating that the average vehicle horsepower levels of 2004 were more than enough, and we’d have been better served by letting those stay flat and continuing to improve economy.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    1) There will be no satisfaction from the “eco” crowd, period, ever.

    2) Yes, my Mazda6 gets great fuel economy for such a large, comfortable car.

  • avatar

    “Fiat Chrysler boasts the highest overall fuel economy ”
    I think you meant worst??

    Well, it seems that people have taken advantage of better efficiency to buy bigger vehicles. They also buy LEDs and leave them on all the time. They buy new computers every 3 years because Microsoft trained them to.

  • avatar

    Negotiating with the eco crowd is like negotiating with a religion, because essentially that’s what you’re doing.

    For proof that it’s a religion just ask them if they have faith in science. If they nod vigorously without seeing the paradox, well, there’s your answer.

  • avatar

    I’d be a member of the eco crowd if their desire to radically reduce population weren’t limited to only wypipo.

    • 0 avatar

      Being that wypipo, specificallly YT men, do the most damage then whine about being called out for it while simultaneously reaping the benefits of everyone’s else inability to focus in what’s really happening, I’d say join the eco crowd. At least they care about something more than $$ and taxes.

  • avatar

    It annoys me when an article about fuel economy talks about CAFE, but fails to mention that CAFE and the number you see in the window sticker are quite different, and have been for a decade.

    • 0 avatar

      These seem like window sticker numbers, considering that unadjusted CAFE had been 27.5 MPG for decades before Obama started the march to Venezuela.

  • avatar

    “That’s the assessment of the EPA, a body whose motivations *were always* regarded with suspicion *by one side or another*.”

  • avatar

    While I’m no fan of government over-regulation, I’m even less of a fan of ending human civilization as we know it. We’re currently watching a rate of extinction never before seen. Nothing even comes close. We have had overwhelming scientific consensus for 40 years about global warming, yet those that profit from industries that produce greenhouse gases have been able to create doubt and inaction. We have a corporatist president who continues to make America great for the 1%, while maintaining power by appealing religious fundamentalists and populist ideals (just like our friends in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Brazil…). We’ve more than doubled the number of humans on this planet in my lifetime. This is not eco lefty hype. I truly hope that the likely FOX viewers whose comments appear here will either: A) learn to evaluate information on their own and start thinking for themselves or B) will be alive in 30 years or so to see the shitshow that life has become for the 99%. It will be cold comfort, but comfort nevertheless.

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