Since the 1970’s with the OPEC Oil Embargo and introduction of Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] regulations, the fuel economy of the US fleet of light vehicles has continued to increase. Fuel prices and CAFE regulations have both played their part in the average fuel economy in the nation, but fuel prices seem to be a stronger force, getting consumers to make wiser choices. When fuel prices spike, people drive less and choose more fuel-efficient vehicles, but when fuel prices fall, consumers relax a little.
CAFE regulations, on the other hand, have a more long-term effect on average fuel economy, as this forces the automakers themselves to make these vehicles available. In answer, automakers have increased the efficiency of their engines, turned to lighter materials, and electrified their vehicles. Today’s vehicles are more efficient than ever before, sedans topping 50 mpg, SUV nearing 30 mpg, and pick-up trucks nearing 25 mpg.
Still, this requires that consumers buy them, and they have. A reflection of this is found in a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Institute [UMTRI]. The UMTRI study found that the average fuel economy in the US has increased some 15% over the last four years, from under 21 mpg in 2008 to 23.5 mpg in 2012. December 2012’s average fuel economy was just shy of 24 mpg at 23.9 mpg. This is good news, and while there are dips and spikes, the better news is that the overall trend is upwards. As more hybrid electric- and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles hit the road, this number is only going to go up.