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Study shows U.S. automotive fuel economy at all-time high

Consumer Reports News: October 10, 2012 02:08 PM

Even with gas prices approaching record levels, there's good news for fuel-economy champions: Cars have never been more efficient than today.

That's the conclusion of a new study by the University of Michigan, which finds that more fuel-efficient models have raised national fleetwide average fuel economy by 18 percent since new fuel-economy standards started taking effect in 2007. Not only have new cars and trucks been achieving better mileage, but many consumers have been choosing higher-mileage models to offset rising gas bills, the study says.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle studied fuel economy trends all the way back to the dawn of the automotive age, and they found that overall fuel economy has only increased under strict regulations and fuel price spikes.

Back in 1923, fuel economy averaged 14 mpg. Leading up to the 1973 oil crisis, fuel economy declined to 11.9 mpg. In the aftermath, efficiency became important and the average fuel economy for the national fleet rose sharply to 16.9 mpg by 1991. Through 2007, the fleet made modest improvements to 17.2 mpg.

Since then, the fuel economy of the average new car has risen from 20.1 mpg to 23.8 mpg for light-duty vehicles, the study notes, pushed by regulation and rising gas prices. That equates to national savings of about 6.1 billion gallons of fuel since 2007, or the equivalent of about 13 days' supply. This may sound like a drop in the bucket, but it is a big drop in a giant bucket.

If you're considering buying a new more fuel-efficient vehicle, Consumer Reports can tell you how much you can expect to save. Check out our real-world fuel economy tests (results are on the car model pages) and our fuel-savings comparison, which illustrates the cost savings from upgrading to a more efficient vehicle. For example, if you're currently driving a Honda Pilot that gets 18 mpg, you could save $580 a year in fuel by buying a new, smaller Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 four-cylinder.

Consumer Reports has long advocated higher fuel economy standards and has submitted comments to government agencies supporting the new standards. We're glad to see America and its drivers are benefiting, and we expect the ramp up to increasingly stringent standards will yield further benefits.

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Government formally releases new 54.5 mpg standards for 2025

Eric Evarts

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