In 2011, the federal government unveiled fuel economy standards for the year 2025, setting a fleet-wide goal of 54.5 mpg for all automakers selling vehicles in the U.S. According to Auto News, the Environmental Protection Agency says that car companies are on-track to meet those goals, despite a few hiccups.
Fuel economy has been steadily ticking up with each model year. Last time we checked with the folks at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, the fuel economy of new cars sold in America had reached an all-time high of 25.8 mpg.
That might make it seem as if automakers have a long, long way to go over the next 11 years -- and they do, but it's not as long as you think.
That's because the EPA regulations are based on corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE. CAFE is more complicated than "real world" fuel economy, since it factors in production volume, fleet-wide fuel economy, and a number of other stats. As a result, CAFE is generally higher than "real world" economy. Back in September, CAFE hit a new high, too: 31.3 mpg.
2013 ANALYSIS BY THE EPA
Last week, the EPA issued a report on 2013 fuel economy, noting that the nationwide, real-world average for new vehicles sold last year stood at 24.1 mpg -- a record.
However, gains weren't made across the board. For example, while Nissan's average efficiency rose 2.1 mpg to 26.2, Ford's fell 0.6 to 22.2 mpg. Booming sales of trucks and other large vehicles -- a direct result of the recovering economy -- helped keep a number of averages down.
The EPA remains optimistic, though. The agency's Chris Grundler says that he's seen compliance plans from automakers, and if companies stick to them, meeting 2025 goals is very doable.
A major element in each of those plans is advanced efficiency technology. The EPA cites improvements like variable valve timing, multivalve engines, and direct injection, which are now available on significant numbers of vehicles -- and that's to say nothing of hybrid and electric powertrains, which are slowly gaining in popularity.
The EPA expects figures for 2014 to be substantially higher than those recorded in 2013. That's not just because of improved fuel tech, but also because Hyundai and Kia were left out of the 2013 survey, as they're being investigated for overstatement of fuel economy claims. Even if the EPA cuts the pair's numbers by a few points, they should still boost the national average. (For reference: the average fuel economy on Hyundai vehicles is an industry-high 29 mpg, while Kia rates 27.4.)
Increasing fleet-wide economy by more than 20 mpg in just 11 years won't be a walk in the park for America's automakers. Since 2007, the figure has edged up less than one mpg per year.
The most important -- and most uncertain -- factor in all of this is advanced fuel technology and how quickly it's adapted.
The good news is that much of that technology is already here. The Toyota Prius, for example, already earns 51 mpg city, which is easily within range of 2025 goals, if not beyond them.
Will the price of hybrid and electric vehicle tech come down enough in a single decade to encourage mainstream consumers to make the switch? How about on commercial vehicles like trucks and vans? Can they make the necessary gains and still haul the lumber, the packages, the cupcakes that America needs to grow and prosper?
Honestly, we've got no idea. For now, we're hopeful, though.
To read the EPA's complete report, entitled Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 - 2014, click here.