New Report: Automakers Beating Expectations With Fuel-Efficient Offerings

Survey Finds Consumers Remain Bullish On Fuel Economy, Wary of Gas Price Spikes

Washington D.C.—Automakers are doing more than ever before to meet national fuel efficiency standards, with 56 percent of available vehicle models matching or exceeding today’s targets, according to a new analysis of 1,094 2016 models from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).

“Fuel efficiency increasingly comes standard with new cars, trucks, and SUVs” said Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs for CFA and author of The Car Book. “Even if you’re in the market for a large pickup or SUV, you’d have to go out of your way to find a true gas guzzler.”

Further, the vast majority of Americans want fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a CFA’s new consumer survey conducted in March by ORC International. Despite current low gas prices, 81 percent of consumers said gas mileage will be an important consideration next time they go shopping for a new car. The same percentage said they support federal fuel economy standards.  “It’s no surprise that fuel efficiency is still a top priority as consumers have had a long history with volatile gas prices,” said Gillis

As Mileage Targets Get Tougher, Automakers Answer The Challenge

Model year 2016 is the third in a row in which more than half of all passenger car and truck models offered for sale in the United States meet or beat the national standards. It’s important to note that automakers must meet fuel-efficiency requirements on an average basis across fleets and vehicles classes, so some models can be below the standard as long as others exceed them.

CFA found that highly efficient models achieving more than 30 mpg in on-road tests continue to proliferate, comprising 13.4 percent of available models this year, up from 11.7 percent last year. In 2008, only 1 percent of vehicle models achieved 30 mpg or more. Note: our report uses the EPA combined City/Highway MPG for our analysis.

SUVs and pickups have become much more efficient, too. Overall, vehicles that get less than 16 mpg declined to just 4 percent of available models, down from 6.1 percent a year ago. These inefficient vehicles comprised a whopping 32.2 percent of available models as recently as 2008.

This year, every Mazda model met or beat the fuel efficiency target for its vehicle class, a first-ever achievement for an automaker that relies on internal combustion engines. In previous years, only the electric carmaker Tesla offered a full line-up of models that were all above the standard.

Two other automakers boasted big jumps in fuel economy. Mitsubishi went from just 39 percent of models meeting or exceeding requirements last year to 70 percent this year.  Note: however, given the recent announcement of testing manipulation by Mitsubishi, those results have to be suspect until the investigation is complete.  Hyundai more than doubled its number of compliant models, going from 28 percent last year to 59 percent this year. Other automakers posted more modest gains. Ford was the only automaker out of 16 studied that backslid slightly, going from 34 percent compliance last year to 32 percent this year. Nevertheless, it was last year’s Ford F-150 that demonstrated positive fuel efficiency improvements in the pick-up class.

The report also examined “all-new” vehicle lineups for 2016. These model runs will often remain on the market for several years with only slight modifications, and are therefore a good indicator of how far ahead of curve automakers are able to go on fuel efficiency. This year, 19 out of 32 (60 percent) new models met or exceeded standards. That included 15 out of 19 new car models and 5 out of 13 new light truck and SUV models.

Standouts included Toyota’s Rav4 and Chevrolet’s Malibu (Hybrid) and Cruze, all of which exceed today’s standards and already meet standards not scheduled to take effect until 2021. Honda’s new Civic, one of the most popular cars in the United States, will remain compliant until 2023, as will the Scion iA.

A few other models would be compliant until 2024, including the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius, while the Chevrolet Spark (EV), Smart ForTwo (EV) are compliant until 2025.

Last year’s Ford 150, the most popular truck in the United States, has models that meet or exceed standards for pickups until 2021. Similarly, 2014’s Toyota Highlander is compliant until 2020.

Consumers Want Fuel-Efficient Cars

CFA’s national consumer survey in March 2016 conducted by ORC International, found that consumers still place great value on fuel efficiency and fuel economy standards, regardless of today’s relatively low gas prices. Eighty-one percent of consumers said gas mileage would be an “important” consideration when buying a car, with 54 percent saying it would be “very important.” Similarly, 81 percent of respondents said they support the federal standards, with 52 percent strongly supporting.

“Consumers are understandably wary of gas price swings,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA’s Director of Research. “Thankfully, purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle remains a practical, sensible way to save money and protect your household against gas price spikes.”

Cooper calculated that the cost of fuel-efficient technology more than pays for itself over the lifetime of a vehicle, and would continue to do so even at rock-bottom gas prices of $1.30 a gallon. He points out that gas costs remain significant for consumers, with the average household spending about $1,500 a year on gasoline. That’s about as much as the average American household spends on electricity or telephone service, according to federal data.

The CFA survey found that consumers expect gas prices to rise in the future, with the average respondent predicting $3.50 a gallon gas in five years. That’s in line with projections made by the federal Energy Information Administration.

Automakers Push For Lower Standards

Despite their success in meeting federal fuel economy standards, automakers are asking federal agencies to lower fuel efficiency requirements between 2022 and 2025 as part of a scheduled re-evaluation process for the program, according to media reports. The Department of Transportation will produce a new fuel economy assessment over the summer and deciding whether or not to stay the course on fuel economy will be one of the first major decisions on the next president’s desk.

“We already have immensely popular cars and trucks that meet and beat the standards 13 out of the 14 major world-wide auto companies agreed to in 2012,” Gillis said. “So it’s hard to see any reason to slow down on fuel economy, especially given how

The United States first adopted fuel-economy standards in the 1970s following the Arab Oil Embargo. Bipartisan legislation passed in the late 2000s and signed into law by President George W. Bush requires automakers to increase fuel economy each year through 2025, and President Obama built on that progress in 2011, when automakers agreed to increase fuel economy for cars and light-duty trucks to an average of about 40 mpg in real world, on-road fuel efficiency by 2025.

Each year until then, specific miles-per-gallon requirements for different kinds of vehicles get incrementally higher, with cars having to meet a higher standard than bigger vehicles such as pickups and SUVs. But not every single model has to meet a given year’s target for its vehicle class. Instead, each company must meet fuel economy requirements on an average basis across its fleet and across vehicle classes. So automakers are free to produce and sell a mix of vehicles that are both above and below a given year’s set of standards.

The full report is available on CFA’s website along with supplementary data, charts and a copy of the survey question and results.

Contact: Jack Gillis, 202-737-0766; Aaron Huertas, 202-236-8495

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.