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Gas Prices Key in Fuel Efficiency Targets

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The next wave of vehicles is shown at NAIAS, most with improved fuel efficiency. Fuel efficiency targets are still a big focus for automakers. At the Detroit Auto Show, vehicles with engines that are just as powerful as years before are being shown off, but with a smaller size and less gas consumption.

Carmakers have swapped stainless steel in favor of aluminum and other lightweight materials. They’ve added gears to help engines run better, leading to fuel savings and a reduction of emissions. With gasoline prices being down almost half compared to two years ago, though, do drivers care?

The alternative question is: will vehicles that consume more gasoline, like sport utility vehicles, nullify any efficiency gained? Improvements made to the vehicles’ engines to meet fuel efficiency targets across the board shows that efficiency isn’t limited to hybrid or electric vehicles. In response to government regulation, fuel economy on American cars has risen by 26 percent over the past 12 years.

However, that improvement statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. Progress in increasing fuel efficiency has slowed, as overall fuel economy hasn’t risen since 2014, where it clocked in at 24.3 miles per gallon. The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has data that suggests that fuel economy actually dropped in 2015.

With American gas prices as low as they are, it appears that purchasing a fuel-efficient car, much less an electric or hybrid vehicle, is no longer a priority. Pickup trucks and SUV sales grew faster than any other type of car in 2015.

During his administration, President Obama set a goal for vehicles to get 54.5 miles to the gallon. The compliance is measured by gains on individual vehicle models, as well as if the average efficiency of a manufacturer’s fleet is improving. While electric and hybrid vehicle efficiency helps these numbers, big improvements in gas-powered cars also play a key role.

With pickup truck and SUV sales numbers still on the rise, manufacturers will have to continue to improve these models as well. Some in the industry see that the most accessible changes have already been made, and further work to meet the goal will be costly and difficult. Others say there is still room to grow in the field, but carmakers agree that it is likely fuel efficiency targets are not going to be reduced.

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