With average gas prices in America still hovering above $3.50 a gallon, fuel economy remains a major concern for new-car shoppers. According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, that's having a profound effect on the vehicles consumers buy -- or, more specifically, the fuel economy of the cars they buy.
UMTRI researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle say that the average fuel economy of new vehicles sold reached a record high in August: 24.9 mpg. That's up 0.1 mpg from July 2013 and up 4.8 mpg since UMTRI began monitoring such stats in October 2007.
Just as impressive, the average fuel economy of all model-year 2013 vehicles sold to-date clocks in at 24.7 mpg. That's an improvement of 1.2 mpg over models from 2012.
As you'll see from UMTRI's chart above, the fuel economy of new cars sold has climbed steadily over the past six years. Spikes in efficiency typically occur in springtime -- perhaps because that's when gasoline gets expensive, as refineries squeeze off supply prior to the summer-blend changeover. That, in turn, likely makes shoppers more sensitive to the fuel rating of their new ride.
Gas prices often settle down in the fall, after the return to regular or "winter blend" gas has taken place. That's often when the fuel economy of new cars sold flattens out, as consumers worry less about their MPGs.
What's remarkable is that fuel economy has continued to improve at a time when truck sales are booming -- and pickups, as we know, don't tend to be the most fuel efficient vehicles on the road. Then again, with CAFE regulations setting ever-higher goals, perhaps the fact that fuel economy is improving isn't all that surprising.