NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 2, 2004

The impact of sport-utility vehicles on oil consumption and price swings is exaggerated, says Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute. Indeed, data shows that the role of SUVs is negligible, and the assumption that eliminating SUVs will reduce oil consumption, thereby reducing oil prices, is faulty.

According to Reynolds:

  • Between 1975 and 1988, the market share of small, fuel-efficient cars increased slightly from 40 percent to 43.8 percent, but average mileage increased significantly from 13.1 to 22.1 miles per gallon.
  • By 2004, the market share of small cars declined to 22.9 percent; yet average mileage has declined by 1.3 miles per gallon.
  • The increase in overall fuel economy between 1975 and 1988 was more attributable to technology such as fuel injection and radial tires, and not simply to more people driving smaller cars.

But the 1.3 mpg decline in the average mileage since 1988 is what is pushing environmentalists to blame the SUV, explains Reynolds.

Additionally, a recent New York Times article notes that light trucks account for 18 percent of oil consumption in 2001, up from 13 percent in 1990. But Reynolds points out that less than half of the light truck sales were SUVs. The article attributes the increase in oil consumption to the stagnation of the sales of fuel-efficient vehicles, but Reynolds points out that the increase in oil consumption is due to people driving more miles.

While transportation accounts for two-thirds of the United States' oil use, cars and SUVs make up only half of that proportion -- vehicles such as heavy trucks, airplanes, boats and trains account for the rest.

Source: Alan Reynolds, "SUVs' Green Critics Have Taken Detour into Disinformation," Investor's Business Daily, June 28, 2004.


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