Luke Tonachel, Vehicles Analyst, New York City

The official numbers are in. In its new Fuel Economy Trends report the U.S. EPA finds that new automobiles sold in model year 2012 averaged a record-high 23.6 miles per gallon (sticker value) and that model year 2013 is expected to continue the upward trend to reach a new record of 24 mpg. In recent years, automakers have been boosting fuel economy across classes of conventional gasoline cars and trucks, enhancing choices for consumers. Model year 2013 also set a record in the number of very efficient, low emission models of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles. Spurred in part by rising fuel economy and clean car standards, 2012 and 2013 have been a banner years for the auto industry and new car consumers.

As seen in the graph below, fuel economy has been on a steady rise.

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Credit: U.S. EPA, Fuel Economy Trends. Adjusted Fuel Economy reflects fuel economy label sticker values, which are about 80% of the values achieved in laboratory testing to account for real-world performance.

Fuel efficiency standards, which ramp up from in the 2012 to 2025 model years to reach a sticker value of about 40 mpg, are a strong reason for the recent increases in the fleet. The standards create certainty for the auto industry that enables long-term investments in fuel efficiency technologies.

Consumer Choices Expand

Shopping for a new car? In the showroom, consumers are finding more options for conventional gasoline cars and trucks that get more miles per gallon and will lower gasoline bills.

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Credit: U.S. EPA, Fuel Economy Trends

EPA notes that advanced conventional gasoline technologies, like downsized turbo-charged engines and high-speed transmissions, continue to penetrate the fleet. Already, 28 percent of the 2013 models meet the 2016 model year fuel efficiency and carbon pollution requirements.  

Also growing is the number of very efficient hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles.  According to data from auto market analysts Baum and Associates, model year 2013 sales of hybrids reached just over a half million, up 26 percent from model year 2012. Over 90,000 plug-in electric vehicles were sold in model year 2013, which is an increase of 139% from 2012. EPA reports that 6 previously unreleased models of plug-in electric vehicles were certified in 2013, including the Fiat 500e, Honda Fit, Scion iQ EV, Smart fortwo electric, Ford Fusion Energi and Ford C-Max Energi.

Leaders and Laggards

Among the statistics provided by EPA are the average fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions of new vehicle fleets by manufacturer. As shown below, the model year 2013 leaders with high fuel efficiency and low emissions are Mazda, Honda, Toyota, VW and Subaru. These manufacturers held the top five positions in 2012 as well.

Mfr Adj FE and carbon.png

Credit: U.S. EPA, Fuel Economy Trends

While not necessarily among the top five leaders, several manufacturers made substantial improvements to lower their carbon pollution and fuel consumption scores from model year 2011 to model year 2013 (the table above shows changes from 2011 to 2012 but I calculated the 2011-2013 changes for a better trend indication). Daimler dropped emissions by 14 percent, Honda by 11 percent and Chrysler-Fiat by 10 percent.

Fast and Fuel Efficient

EPA’s data shows that consumers are enjoying both fuel efficiency and high performance. EPA estimates the time to go from a stop to 60 miles per hour, or 0-60 time. Fuel efficiency continues to rise while 0-60 times remain at historically fast levels.  (The 0-60 metric is familiar but it is certainly not the only measure of performance. As a driver, you may be more interested in fast acceleration in narrower ranges, like from 0-30, 30-60 or 60-70, where rapid torque response—like that from very efficient electric vehicles—gives the desired ‘kick’.)

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Source: NRDC graph created using data from U.S. EPA Fuel Economy Trends report.

Last year, I wrote that 2012 was shaping up to be the first Year of the Green Car. EPA’s Trends report confirms that in the realm of fuel efficiency, the automakers are innovating and the consumers are buying. The result is a stronger industry, better energy security and a cleaner environment.