NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Car Fuel Economy Has Slipped

May 18, 2001

A new report from the Department of Transportation says that new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. this model year will have about the same fuel economy as those sold in 1999 -- after achieving a slight improvement in 2000. And excluding a special credit automakers get for vehicles that could use ethanol -- which inflates the average fuel economy -- the New York Times says the average fuel economy for new cars is the lowest it has been since 1980.

  • The average fuel economy will come in at 24.5 miles per gallon this year -- compared to 24.7 mpg last year.
  • The peak in fuel economy was 26.2 mpg in 1987 -- prior to high-volume sales of sport utility vehicles.
  • But experts say even those numbers may exaggerate fuel economy because automakers get extra credit for manufacturing vehicles that can run on either gasoline or nearly pure ethanol -- even though few of those vehicles are thought to be fueled with ethanol by drivers.
  • Fewer than one service station in 1,000 sells ethanol in the U.S.

Federal regulations, called the Corporate Average Fule Economy (CAFE) standards, require each automaker to produce cars with an average fuel economy of 27.5 mpg. Light trucks -- a category that includes sports utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans -- must achieve an average of 20.7 mpg. The lower standard for light trucks dates to the 1970s, when it mainly applied to pickups used by farmers and merchants.

Source: Keith Bradsher, "Fuel Economy for New Cars Is at Lowest Level Since '80," New York Times, May 18, 2001.  

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