Car fuel efficiency jumps to a record high

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For nearly a decade, carbon emissions from vehicles in the US had been falling, and fuel economy had been rising. But then, two years ago this week, the Japanese tsunami knocked out the Japanese auto industry. That triggered a global parts shortage, halting assembly lines around the world. And the knock-on effect was to temporarily reverse the gains in greenness, according to a report released today by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Carbon emissions were falling and fuel economy rising for a decade—but with a recent blip.
Carbon emissions were falling and fuel economy rising for a decade—but with a recent blip.
Image: EPA

The EPA noted that Honda and Toyota produced 500,000 fewer vehicles in the 2011 model year than the one prior, which was likely responsible for the dip in fuel economy and a rise in CO2 emissions.

Honda and Toyota subsequently lost their standing as the two most fuel-efficient, least carbon-intensive automakers that year, a development the EPA said was “at least partially explained by the lower car production in Japan due to the March 2011 tsunami.”

The tsunami-spawned setback also made the record gains in the 2012 model year appear bigger than they otherwise would have been. Average fuel economy of cars and truck sold in the US jumped 6% while carbon emission declined by a similar percentage in the 2012 model year, according to the EPA.

From 2007 to 2012, fuel economy increased 16%, to 23.8 miles per gallon, while C02 emissions have fallen 13%, to 374 grams per mile driven. But automakers still have a long road to travel to hit the Obama administration mandate of average fleet fuel economy of 35.5 MPG by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Still, with US president Barack Obama set to unveil a proposal today to take $2 billion in oil and gas lease revenues to fund advanced vehicle research over the next decade, the EPA reported that almost quarter of 2012 vehicles—80 models—either already meet the 2016 targets or would with only minor improvements.

Just 3% of 2012 models—20 vehicles—have achieved the 2025 targets. No surprise that all those cars are either hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or powered by batteries or fuel cells.

Check the chart below to see how green your ride is:

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