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March 08, 2012

The Trend Is Up

CarrrWhen it comes to fuel economy and emitting greenhouse-gas pollution vehicles are moving in the right direction, but it's time for the auto industry to move into high gear. Today, the EPA released a delayed fuel economy trends report for 2010 and gives a look at 2011 (pdf).

The newly released data from EPA shows the fleet of new vehicles sold in 2010 averaged 22.6 miles per gallon and emitted 394 grams per mile of carbon pollution. For those keeping track, since the fuel economy program kicked off in 1975 this is a new high point. EPA hasn't finished crunching all of the data for 2011 vehicles, but the agency projects that 2011 vehicles will improve over 2010 vehicles, averaging 22.8 mpg and spewing less CO2 pollution. 

First we need a little translation. EPA's trends report uses what the agency notes are "adjusted" values for fuel economy and carbon pollution. EPA provides a handy explanation that the "adjusted" values used in in the trends report differ from those that are used in setting the actual fuel economy standards --those are the "unadjusted" numbers. EPA notes that the "unadjusted" numbers are 25 percent greater than the "adjusted" ones.  Yes, it's confusing and you can learn more here (pdf).

To put the 2010 and 2011 average mpg into the world of standards -- think of numbers more like 28.25 and 28.7 mpg. Progress has been made, and now it is clearly time to put improvements on the fast track -- as gas prices rise and consumers need relief.

This year, 2012, marks the first year of the Obama administration's new National Program that is slated to increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles to a 35.5 mpg and 250 grams per mile of carbon pollution by 2016. Automakers are slated to improve fuel efficiency by 5 percent per year to hit that target -- a rate of improvement much higher than we've seen over the past two years. 

The administration has proposed standards that will continue to improve new vehicles and by 2025 vehicles sold will be nearly twice as efficient as new cars sold today.

As the EPA noted in its release of the trends report today: 

Fuel economy will continue to improve significantly as part of the Obama administration's historic standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The U.S. Department of Transportation and EPA are implementing the first phase of these standards which already improved fuel economy in 2010 and will raise fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg by 2016. These standards will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle. Additionally, these programs will dramatically cut the oil we consume, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil, and by 2025 reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day -- as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC every day.

Consumers are saving at the pump already and using less oil. A different analysis for 2011 vehicles that was reported in January, shows that new vehicles purchased last year "averaged a half-mile more per gallon than those purchased in 2010, an improvement that saved $722 million at the gas pump, where consumers bought 214 million fewer gallons of gas than a year earlier."

After decades of stagnation, standards are in place to ensure that year after year the trend continues to improve -- and faster.  That's good news for consumers and our environment and for helping to end our addiction to oil.  But, the automakers must deliver to make the next EPA fuel economy trends report a stronger story.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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