The EPA and Dept. of Energy yesterday released gas mileage stats for 2007 model vehicles, giving us yet another opportunity to reflect upon the sad state of our nation’s fuel economy. Before delving into the depressing details, here’s the better side of things: the EPA’s top 10 Fuel Economy leaders for 2007.
Rank Manufacturer/Model MPG
1 Toyota Prius (hybrid-electric) 60/51
2 Honda Civic Hybrid 49/51
3 Toyota Camry Hybrid 40/38
4 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD 36/31
5 Toyota Yaris (manual) 34/40
6 Toyota Yaris (automatic) 34/39
7 Honda Fit (manual) 33/38
8 Toyota Corolla (manual) 32/41
9 Hyundai Accent (manual) 32/35
Kia Rio (manual) 32/35
10 Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD 32/29
Mercury Mariner Hybrid 4WD 32/29
While some of us would probably prefer to walk, bike, or take public transportation over driving all the time, we realize that the former are not always possible and therefore applaud Toyota and Honda for bringing to the market cars that can surpass 50 miles per gallon. The rest of the cars in the top 10 also deserve credit, even though the list leaves something to be desired. In an age of complicated petropolitics, rising gas prices, and increasing oil scarcity shouldn’t the top 10 most fuel efficient cars, at the very least, all top 40 miles per gallon? And shouldn’t the best of the best start to approach 100 mpg?
This past July the EPA released a report on fuel economy trends since 1975 which wasn’t exactly full of good news. The estimated national average gas mileage for 2006 was an unimpressive 21.0mpg. Mind you, “This average is the same as last year and in the middle of the 20.6 to 21.4 mpg range that has occurred for the past fifteen years, and five percent below the 1987 to 1988 peak of 22.1 mpg.”
Despite all the technological advances, 20 years have passed since the US reached peak fuel economy, and we can’t even match that level. Shame on us! We now have hybrids, cars that can run on biodiesel and ethanol, and BMW will soon introduce a hydrogen car, but as a nation we’re still guzzling more gas and doing so less efficiently than we did in 1987. For a nation that is bemoaning higher gas prices and whose gas money has financed (and still does) nations that are overtly hostile to it, our behavior is extremely hypocritical.
Aside from financially and politically hurting ourselves, we have also failed to meet our own standards. In 1975 Congress passed legislation that created the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The goal was to double car fuel economy by 1985. That goal was 27.5 mpg. Not only did we fail to reach it in 1985 (remember, peak fuel economy was reached in 1987 at 22.1mpg), more than 30 years after the passage of that legislation and 20 years after our own missed deadline we have still failed ourselves.
Breaking down the 2006 21.0 mpg statistic into its components, we can see what the real culprits are. From the EPA report, “For model year 2006, cars are estimated to average 24.6 mpg, vans 20.6 mpg, SUVs 18.5 mpg, and pickups 17.0 mpg. The increased market share of light trucks, which in recent years have averaged more than six mpg less than cars, accounted for much of the decline in fuel economy of the overall new light-duty vehicle fleet from the peak that occurred in 1987-88.”
We can only blame SUVs, vans, and pickups so much though. Today, thirty years after CAFE, at 24.6 mpg our smaller, lighter, and more fuel-efficient cars have still failed to reach our own gas mileage standards.