After Decades of Stagnation...After what seemed like an eternity of mostly stagnation, average fuel economy for new vehicles has been going up in the United States. Researchers at the University of Michigan have conducted a study showing that for current model year vehicles, fuel economy is 14% higher than just four years ago, which might not sound like much, but it's much better than what we've got in the recent past.
The study concludes that average fuel economy:
- Improved 2.8 mpg for cars (including station wagons) and 1.6 mpg for light trucks (pickups, minivans, vans and SUVs) from model year 2008 to model year 2012. Average fuel economy is currently 23.4 mpg for cars and 18.6 mpg for light trucks.
- Increased for all 12 vehicle-size classes between the 2008 and 2012 model years. The largest increases were 4.1 mpg for station wagons, which had the highest average 2012 rating of 26 mpg, and 3.8 mpg for compact cars, which had the second-highest average of 25.6 mpg. The smallest increases were 0.2 mpg for full-size vans, which had the lowest average 2012 rating of 13.4 mpg, and 0.4 mpg for small pickup trucks, which had the third-lowest average of 18.6 mpg.
- Increased 2.5 mpg for vehicles with automatic transmissions and 2.8 mpg for vehicles with manual transmissions; 2.3 mpg for four-cylinder engines and 1.4 mpg for six-cylinder engines; and 3.4 mpg for front-wheel drive vehicles and 2 mpg for four- or all-wheel drive vehicles from model year 2008 to model year 2012.
- Improved 9.8 mpg for diesel engines and 2.6 mpg for conventional gasoline engines, but dropped 3 mpg for hybrids, which are still more fuel-efficient overall than internal-combustion-only vehicles.
Still Best to Walk, Bike, Take Transit...This is still far from what is needed, and it's still much better to walk, take transit, bike, carpool, etc.. But as long as there are hundreds of millions of cars out there - and there will be for the foreseeable future, especially for the majority of world population that doesn't live in metropolises with good transit and bike lanes - they should be as clean as possible.
So while it's good to finally see some movement in the right direction when it comes to MPG, what is really needed is to reduce the use of cars dramatically (f.ex. they are good for certain things, like moving around rural areas, but not others, like commuting in urban areas) and to make sure that the cars that remain have as little impact as possible on the environment. Clean manufacturing, running them on clean electricity, properly recycling them at the end of their lives, etc. All these things can help a lot.
You can read the full U.M. report here (pdf).