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Reports highlight ongoing advances in vehicle technology, consumer demand for fuel efficiency in US and Europe

4-cylinder engines and hybrid vehicles as a percent of cars sold in the US. Source: CFA. Click to enlarge.

Two separate reports highlight the ongoing improvement in vehicle technologies and the growing trend toward consumers purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles in the US and in Europe. In the US, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) released an analysis—“On the Road to 54.5 MPG: A Progress Report on Achievability”—of the response of consumers and automakers as both begin to experience the effects of the newly adopted federal fuel economy standard.

In Europe, a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) found that the average car sold in the EU in 2012 was 9% more fuel-efficient than the average three years before, due to improved technology and an increase in the share of diesel cars.

CFA report. A new nationwide poll, the first by CFA since the federal adoption of the new CAFE standard last year, found that 85% of respondents “support” the new requirements, with 54% saying they “strongly support” the standard. This support extends across the political spectrum, with 77% of Republicans, 87% of Independents and 92% of Democrats saying they support the higher standard.

Those who say fuel economy is very important expect to get twelve miles more per gallon (mpg) from their next vehicle than those who say it is not important. Those who indicated that their current gas mileage was 24 mpg (9.8 l/100 km) and who intend to purchase a vehicle in the future, expect a seven mpg increase, or to get 31 mpg (7.6 l/100 km) from their next vehicle.

More than half (57%) of respondents who said they intend to purchase a SUV said they want its fuel economy to be at least 25 mpg (9.4 l/100 km).

The gas mileage of new popular cars, pick-ups, and vans sold in the US has increased significantly in the past few years, with the percentage of popular vehicles getting at least 30 mpg (7.8 l/100 km) tripling, according to the report. Comparing popular 2009 models with 2013 models, the new analysis shows that the percentage of vehicles getting at least 30 mpg rose from 4 to 12%.

Over the same time period, the percentage of popular vehicles getting at least 23 mpg (10.2 l/100 km) rose from 30 to 56%; and the percentage getting under 22 mpg (10.7 l/100 km) fell from 70 to 44%.

In part, this increasing mileage reflected the growing popularity of four-cylinder vehicles. In 2005, less than 30% of the vehicles purchased had four-cylinder engines, and in 2012, nearly half of those purchased had four cylinders.

Increasing mileage performance is also reflected the growing sales of hybrid and electric vehicles, which have doubled in sales during the past four years to over half a million vehicles.

Spurred by the higher government standard and greater consumer demand, automakers are increasing the mileage of the vehicles they produce. Between 2009 and 2013, the percentage of total available models getting at least 30 mpg rose from one to nine; the percentage getting at least 23 mpg increased from 19 to 45; and the percentage getting less than 15 mpg (15.7 l/100 km) fell from 15 to 3.

In part, this increasing gas mileage reflects the decision of automakers to improve the fuel economy of ‘new series’ vehicles—those with significant design changes. Each year from 2010 to 2013, the average fuel economy for these ‘new series’ vehicles increased by an average of 2.2 mpg over their previous series.

—Jack Gillis, report co-author

Over the past 6 years, there were even greater mileage improvements for many individual models. Standouts include the Chevy Malibu (went from 20 to 29 mpg), the Honda Accord (went from 24 to 30 mpg), the Nissan Altima (went from 26 to 31 mpg), the Ford Escape (went from 19 to 25 mpg), and the Ford Fusion (went from 21 to 26 mpg.)

Looking at the 134 different car models available in 2013, 64 (49%) include a model that already meets the 2014 mpg CAFE standard. Thirty-two (24%) have a model that meets the 2017 standard and 12 models (9%) already meet the 2025 standard.

“New vehicle technology is becoming more efficient, which is an encouraging sign. But significantly cutting the greenhouse gases from transport will also require a more fundamental change in the transport modes we use and how we use them.”
—Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director

EEA report. The latest edition of “Monitoring CO2 emissions from new passenger cars in the EU” includes provisional data on vehicles sold in 2012. It shows that average CO2 emissions from the new car fleet in the EU fell by 2.6 % between 2011 and 2012.

In addition to technological changes, the economic crisis may have increased sales of more efficient models in some countries, the report says.

Key findings of the report include:

  • In 2012, approximately 12 million new cars were sold. This number has decreased since it peaked in 2007, when 15.5 million new vehicles were registered. Registrations of new cars fell furthest in 2012 in Greece (-41%), Portugal (-38%) and Cyprus (-25%), while at the other end of the scale new cars increased by more than 12% in in Estonia and Hungary.

  • Diesel vehicles represent 55% of the newly registered vehicle fleet. Diesel cars have traditionally had lower CO2 emissions than their petrol counterparts although this gap has narrowed in recent years. However, it is important to note that diesel cars emit higher levels of some air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, compared to gasoline-driven equivalents.

  • The lowest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per kilometre were in Denmark (117g CO2/km) and Portugal (118 g CO2/km). The largest improvement in efficiency between 2011 and 2012 was in Greece (9%) and Denmark (6%).

  • Hungary and Belgium were the only two EU Member States where cars sold in 2012 were on average less efficient than those sold the year before. Cars with the highest average emissions were sold in Latvia (152g CO2/km) and Estonia (150g CO2/km).

  • Alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) include electric cars, hybrids and cars running on alternative fuels such as liquid petroleum gas and ethanol. Thirteen per cent of new cars sold in Italy were alternative fuel vehicles, the highest proportion in any Member State.

  • Annual pure electric vehicle sales increased 20-fold over the last three years, going from around 700 in 2010 to around 14,000 in 2012. Most of these cars were registered in France (more than 5,500 vehicles in 2012) and Germany (almost 3,000 vehicles).



It's improving but it's improving slow.


It's progressing with the latest technologies.


The jump in 4-cylinders does seem to tie to increased CAFE standards in 2009.


The European report is a good read.
They seem to be getting about 5 gms/Km better per year, and are at about 132 / km at present (2012).

If they keep this up for the next 8 years, they could well hit the 2020 target of 95 gms/km, which would be impressive.

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