EPA: 2017 model year vehicle mileage increased slightly

Tom Krisher
Associated Press
In this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is shown at EPA headquarters in Washington.

Detroit – New vehicles in the U.S. from the 2017 model year averaged slightly better gas mileage than the previous year, rising to a record 24.9 mpg, according to an annual report from the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the mileage rose only 0.2 mpg, and environmental groups say it fell short of a 1 mpg increase required under standards enacted during the Obama administration.

To make up the difference, automakers used credits for zero emissions vehicles and other fuel-saving measures that aren’t included in EPA test cycles. The agency and the Department of Transportation say that’s evidence the industry will have trouble meeting standards as they rise through 2025.

The Trump administration has proposed freezing the standards at 2021 levels.

But environmental groups and the state of California say the standards should remain in place and that automakers have the technology to meet them. The administration’s move to freeze them, while not finalized, already has brought a court challenge from California and other states that follow its standards.

The administration last month broke off negotiations with California on fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions, and the matter probably will be tied up in the courts for years.

The standoff leaves the auto industry in an uncertain state. For now, the Obama-era regulations remain in effect, and auto companies aren’t sure what standards they have to meet for 2022 and beyond. A decision by the Trump administration is expected this spring.

The industry has said it wants one standard and that the federal government should work out an agreement with California, which has authority to set its own mileage and emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. The administration is likely to challenge that.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement Wednesday that the agency’s proposed changes “will allow the industry to meet aggressive yet attainable standards, reduce the price of new vehicles and help more Americans purchase cleaner, safer and more efficient vehicles.”

But environment groups said that even with use of the credits, the industry is meeting the standards and can continue to do so.

“While the Trump administration is moving to gut the clean car standards, its own data shows the current standards are working. Automakers are innovating and improving the performance of their fleets, and tailpipe emissions continue to plummet,” said Luke Tonachel, director for clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The EPA and the auto industry contend that as Americans shift from more efficient cars to trucks and SUVs, the industry is having trouble meeting the standards. The EPA report said that SUV sales reached a record 43 percent in 2017, with cars and wagons falling to 41 percent. The rest were trucks.

But Tonachel said the Obama-era standards are flexible, reducing requirements for automakers if they sell more trucks and SUVs.

“They are selling more trucks yet still meeting the standards because the standards automatically adjust to the mix of vehicles they sell,” he said.