Mpg rises slightly for U.S. autos

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — – Americans are buying the most fuel-efficient mix of cars and trucks in the 2014 model year than they ever have. But the pace of gas-saving improvements is slowing, and automakers are raising concerns that people won’t buy enough fuel-sipping models to meet tough government requirements.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday in its annual report on fuel efficiency that overall, that vehicles that will be sold for model-year 2014 are estimated to be just 0.1 mile per gallon better — at 24.2 mpg in real-world fuel efficiency — than the overall average of all the 2013 model-year vehicles sold.

In contrast, 2013 vehicles on average got 0.5 mpg better than 2012 models, and 2012 vehicles got 1.2 mpg better than 2011 cars.

“The trend is continuing on the increase,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a conference call with reporters who says the 2014 projection is “conservative,” and says some anomalies account for part of the slowdown in 2014. “I wouldn’t be discouraged by the 2014 (numbers).” She called them “all pretty positive.”

The numbers favor automakers that don’t build pickups and larger vehicles, since it only ranks the aggregate fuel efficiency of all the vehicles sold by automaker.

The EPA released the final 2013 fleet averages on Wednesday. Leading the pack for overall fuel efficiency for all models sold for the 2013 model year is Mazda Motor Co., with an average of 28.1 mpg (up 1 mpg), followed by Honda Motor Co. at 27.4 mpg (up 0.8 mpg) and Subaru Motor Co. at 26.7 mpg (up 1.5 mpg)

Detroit automakers had the worst average fuel efficiency overall for 2013. Ford fell 0.6 mpg to 22.2 mpg; GM rose 0.3 mpg to 22.0 mpg, while Chrysler-Fiat rose 0.8 mpg to 20.9 mpg.

EPA says of the 11 automakers, all but GM are expected to boost fuel efficiency for 2014, with GM remaining constant at 22 mpg.

The report also shows automakers are making more powerful engines as more buyers shift from cars to SUVs. The EPA forecasts the 2014 average horsepower rating will set an all-time record of 201 horses per vehicle — up over 198 in 2013, and more than double the average in 1982.

Vehicle weight is also expected to hit its highest fleetwide average of 3,572 pounds — up 27 pounds over 2013, and the highest since 1978.

The 2014 numbers were hurt, in part, by Hyundai-Kia extending its 2013 model year because of the discovery in 2012 of the overstatement of many models’ fuel efficiency. McCarthy said the EPA is still working to conclude its investigation into the overstatement, but declined to offer details.

She said the agency has been more aggressive in making sure that EPA labels reflect accurate testing. “We’re really putting our audit process on steroids a bit here,” McCarthy said.

“This report shows that automakers are deploying technology improvements even more quickly than anticipated, giving consumers more electrics, plug-in hybrids, hybrids, diesels and high mileage gas-powered options than ever.

“But the report is also a vivid reminder that the ultimate success of the National Program is not predicated on what we produce, but on what consumers choose to buy, especially with today’s lower gas prices,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association representing Detroit’s Big Three, Toyota, VW and others

John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, a separate trade association representing Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and others, said the “report shows that our industry has improved fuel economy performance by 25 percent since 2004. Trends are moving in the right direction.”

Major automakers in 2012 agreed to nearly double fleetwide fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025 — about double the prior requirements — and cut average greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half.

EPA’s greenhouse gas rules have been issued in tandem with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Corporate Average Fuel Economy program.

Automakers are required to hit 35.5 mpg by 2016. Those figures are calculated in a different way, and significantly overstate real-world fuel economy. As measured in CAFE rules, the EPA said in 2013 the fleet averaged 30.6 mpg and projected it will rise to 30.7 mpg.

2013 fleet ratings

Here are the average fuel-efficiency ratings for all vehicles sold by automakers for the 2013 model year, and the fleetwide change from 2012:

1. Mazda Motor Co., 28.1 mpg (up 1 mpg)

2. Honda Motor Co., 27.4 mpg (up 0.8 mpg)

3. Subaru Motor Co., 26.7 mpg (up 1.5 mpg)

4. Nissan Motor Co., 26.2 mpg (up 2.1 mpg)

5. Volkswagen AG, 25.7 mpg (up 0.2 mpg)

6. Toyota Motor Corp., 25.1 mpg (down 0.5 mpg, due to increased sales of SUVs and trucks)

7. BMW, 24.5 mpg, (up 0.8 mpg)

8. Daimler, 22.4 (up 1.3 mpg)

9. Ford, 22.2 mpg, (down 0.6 mpg)

10. GM, 22.0 mpg (up 0.3 mpg)

11. Chrysler-Fiat 20.9 mpg, up 0.8 mpg

Source: EPA