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Fuel-Efficient Car Gap Growing

The number of vehicle models sold in the US that get more than 40 mpg has dropped from 2005 levels, even as the ranks of highly fuel-efficient vehicles sold overseas—but not available to US consumers—is growing rapidly, according to data that will be presented this week by the Civil Society Institute (CSI) think tank and its project.

A new CSI/ national opinion poll to be released at the same time will show that there is an unsatisfied market of millions of Americans who want highly fuel-efficient vehicles but have been frustrated in their attempts to get them.

The survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) also will show that an overwhelming majority of Americans now believe that they should be able to buy the highly fuel-efficient cars made by foreign and American auto manufacturers that are available for sale in other nations but not in the United States.



I second that! There are tons of cars over in Europe that I wish I could buy. Small gas cars are finally availble here, but the nicest ones like the Audi A2 are not (it's supposed to 80 much for 40MPG). The "Big Three" automakers all have great diesel engines for all car classes, that I wish I could buy. What's also missing is diesels for small trucks, or for that matter, diesels for full size trucks that aren't huge. It would be nice to be able to buy a diesel truck and not have to pay at least $40000.


How much is perception of actual US market demand, and how much is the difference in safety and emissions regulations?

I don't know the answer, but I'm sure that both play a role.


you guys live in some murky water over there , I cant understand when over here in europe, cars are getting more and more efficent , in the USA the opposite is true !


I agree. At least 40mpg. I'm still driving my 21 year old car because I don't want to "vote" with my dollars for a car with anything less than 40-50mpg.
I'm holding out till the bitter end. If everyone would stop buying the cr*p that's for sale then we'd have better cars.

Bike Commuter Dude

A large part of the reason that the U.S. market has not been able to increase efficiency as much as the European community, is the ever-constricting emissions regulations. American automotive emissions have been reduced dramatically, even from as little as five years ago. The down side of the reduction, is that to tune an engine to burn cleaner, you must make a sacrifice of either specific output (hp/liter of displacement) or fuel efficiency (miles/liter of fuel). As Americans are very hesitant to relinquish their large, powerful vehicles, and low emissions are a must, that leaves only efficiency on the chopping block.
A perfect example of what NOT to do is the Volvo XC90 SUV. In previous years, the base engine was a sophisticated 2.5 liter turbocharged inline-5. This powerplant provided favorable specific output, modest fuel consumption (for an SUV), and adequate emissions controls. To cut costs, and cater to consumer demand, however, GM decided to plug in a bigger, heavier, less sophisticated 3.6 liter V6. Now, the XC90 has more power, and comparable emissions, but weighs more, and has much poorer volumetric efficiency.


I get 65-70mpg on my Reflex scooter, which I use a couple days per week to commute to work, but at the expense of other emissions.

John Ard

Bike Commuter Dude:
Ford owns Volvo, not GM. But I see your point and I wish the U.S. would adopt lighter NOx limits so we could have some decent diesels over here. But that would make too much sense.


Seven years ago I bought my first VW diesel a 1991. There's really not much on the market then can compare to this kind of economy even today. 55 mpg imperial is pretty good. The average person can work on it because it all mechanical and cheap parts. I think people are brain washed into believing all the advertising. Then they run out and buy a new Hyundai so they can have sexx with cop.

Robert Schwartz

"A new CSI/ national opinion poll to be released at the same time will show that there is an unsatisfied market of millions of Americans who want highly fuel-efficient vehicles but have been frustrated in their attempts to get them."

Why is Toyota putting sales incentives on the Prius. Somebody is not telling the truth, and money does not lie.


I'm looking to import a 15 year old diesel Japanese domestic truck or van because there exists NO north american domestic diesel trucks that have less than 5.9 liters engine displacement. Consumers aren't being given the option to vote with their wallet because all the candidates are guzzlers, not unlike the 2 party political system.

Here's another vote for giving OPTIONS to the consumer.

Harvey D.

When are we going to give vehicle fuel consumption in standard units = Km/litre (like in Japan and China... etc)?

The current: miles per USA gallon; miles per Imperial gallon and L/100 Km add unnecessary confusion.

My wife's Corolla meets the '40 mpg Organisation' objective regularly.


It's really a shame how the US doesn't import good vehicles and allows the ones that it does have to cease production. A case in point is my 1999 Chevrolet Metro. It regularly gets 42 city and 45 highway and it's old technology. Do they produce this car today? No. Instead they produce the Chevy Aveo. It gets really crappy gas mileage in comparison (26/37 mpg). The average commuter car should have about 60 horsepower and doesn't need 200+ hp. It's just a waste when you're sitting in traffic. Yeah, and don't use a commuter car to pull your boat.

At least in Canada I can buy a diesel smart fortwo if I want a good mileage car.


Harvey D.

You also have to account for the fact that fuel economy figures in different countries are determined using different test cycles. Even if you did the long division, you'd still have numbers that were not fundamentally comparable when comparing different models from different markets.

Personally, I'm rather happy with the stringent local air quality standards we have here in the U.S. I can stand near a heavily used road, breath deeply, and not get hit with an overwhelming petroleum odor. I can go to LA and not have to deal with the smog anymore. I can only imagine the more serious public health benefits that flow from all of this. Fifteen years ago, the air in big cities or near major roads was not nearly this good, and I can only imagine that it was even worse twenty five years ago -- though my own personal memory runs out by that point.

We could go for smaller cars -- but what about the safety regulations?

Frankly, we'd get about five times as much fuel savings if we substituted 20 mpg vehicles for 15 mpg vehicles rather than upgrading 35 mpg vehicles to 40 mpg, everything else being equal. That's because 5 is a greater fraction of 15 than it is of 35. It breaks down this way:

1. We have two hypothetical drivers, X and Y. Assume that both drivers will put on 12,000 miles per year.

2. X drives an SUV getting 15 mpg. He burns 800 gallons of gas that year. If he instead gets a vehicle that gets 20 mpg, he will only burn 600 gallons per year, saving 200 gallons.

3. Y drives a compact car getting 35 mpg. She burns 342.86 gallons of gas that year. If her car got 40 mpg, should would burn only 300 gallons. Savings: 42.86 gallons.

4. A savings of 200 gallons is 4.666 times larger than a savings of 42.86 gallons.

5. Given current technology, costs, market demands, perforance/size preferences and safety/emissions requirements, it seems much easier and more feasible to convince a significant fraction of drivers with 15 mpg vehicles to move to 20 mpg vehicles than it would be to move 35 mpg drivers into 40 mpg vehicles.

6. Given that it is probably easier to replace painlessly 15 mpg vehicles with 20 mpg vehicles, given that such a substitution has a far larger environmental benefit, and given that there is a rather large pool of current 15 mpg class drivers ready to be weaned off their present habits, I'm going to spend the majority of my efforts working that angle, rather than griping about being stuck with a 35 mpg vehicle instead of a 40 mpg one.

Kit P

NBK is in the right track. Let me provide some more reasons why the 'Fuel-Efficient Car Gap' concept is wrong. I just bought a 40+MPG 5 passenger car for my wife and retired the 7 passenger van (250 k miles) for the now rare occasion when the whole clan is in one place. Finding a 40+MPG 5 passenger car manufactured to North American safety standards was not a problem, deciding which one to buy required lots of homework. The only odd thing was VW does not have a TDI diesel right now according to the salesman. I ended up buying a Corolla after renting one to see how actual my driving matched EPA figures. It is a green car. No really, that is the color.

As NBK suggested, good millage is a case of diminishing returns. None of the Toyota HEV would have reduced the amount of fuel we used but the cheapest one was $6k more with a very expensive maintenance item to replace batteries. The problem is not efficiency but snobbery. Good economical transportation choices are available if you are not worried about impressing people with an expensive car.

Second, efficiency is really a misused term and should be a secondary criteria. Safety and reliability are higher up on my list. It is really important to match the vehicle to the task. I use about 15 gallons of gasoline a month to commute to work in my pos Ford pu. With 250 k miles on the engine, I get as high as 30 mpg commuting to work on city streets. However, on the highway with a heavy load it has done as bad a 17 MPG. Why? It is because it is an underpowered and has bad aerodynamics.

A number of years a ago, a friend had an identical Toyota PU except mine has a V-6 for towing a small boat. We got identical highway millage but he had to down shift going up a mountain. I never got better millage in town with the Toyota PU. My present pos pu is stripped down to the max and you can not hear the radio if you are going over 65 mph. My Toyota PU was a pleasure to drive and I preferred it to the Camry (equivalent to today's Corolla). When the Toyota PU has 200k miles, I gave it to my son and bought a Honda that got 36 PMG. When you job requires you to practically live in your car, efficiency sucks.

My point is that there is not an efficiency gap and there may be many reasons to not worry about 40+.

I also worked in Europe for a year. I noticed people drove as big a car as they could afford. The guy who fixed my car their drove a motor scooter and lived in a small apartment. In the US, my mechanic drives a big diesel PU and lives in a nice house. Socialism is just the grandest thing you ever saw.

Stan Peterson

For all the environmentalist cynics out there, you can thank the air emissions people for the dearth of 40+mpg vehicles. Europe's diesels don't meet T2Bin5 emissions levels.

Since they have experience and massive existing investments with diesels they are trying to clean them up and pass, but no one has done it yet, but promise maybe next year.

Bureaucrats wanting excellence as the enemy of merely good. unfortunately, That comes from not having to put your job or your money where your mouth is. Impossible standards that no one can meet? No problem promulgate them anyway.

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