Chalk it all up to Cash For Clunkers: The average gas mileage of new cars and light trucks sold during August reached a record high of 23 miles per gallon, up 8 percent over the 21.2 mpg in August 2008. The 23-mpg level equals the highest recorded average, back in August 2007, when gasoline neared its peak prices of $4 a gallon or more.
As noted by our sister site GreenCarReports.com, the data comes from trade journal Ward's Automotive News, which calculates its Fuel-Economy Index using reported U.S. sales of cars and light trucks, the engine options chosen, and EPA fuel economy ratings.
Toyota had the best overall average, at 26.9 mpg. With 54,396 Camrys delivered, that model logged the second-best sales month in its 26-plus year history. And it might have done better yet, if its popular 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid weren't effectively sold out. High global demand for the 50-MPG Prius meant that as of mid-August, Toyota had almost none available.
Kia came second, at 25.1 mpg, followed by Hyundai at 24.9 mpg. Volkswagen averaged 23.0 mpg, with its 2009 Jetta TDI clean-diesel sedan at the forefront. Hybrids also romped, with more than 34,000 hybrid-electric cars and light trucks sold.
The August average is hardly an anomaly. Average fuel efficiency will continue to rise as automakers adapt their products to meet new U.S. gas mileage standards of 42 mpg by 2016. Among other techniques will be smaller (but equally powerful) engines, some of them direct-injected and turbocharged, and electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmissions.