You Call That a Gain?
The New York Times asks: Why so little bump in overall fuel economy?
And it's true that the gain, at a mere 0.4 mpg, is minuscule; since 2004, in fact, overall U.S. vehicle fleet fuel economy has gained an anemic 1.4 mpg.
The article looks at some reasons, including advertising (people are driven to buy the wrong car), incentives (gas-guzzlers were favored with heavy discounts), and good old shortsightedness on the part of the automakers. Dan Baker at the Center for Auto Safety says, “Gas prices went up every single year from 2002 to 2008, yet auto companies continued to produce vehicles that guzzled gas. People couldn’t buy fuel-efficient vehicles because the automakers didn’t make enough of them.”
There's also a more direct correlation, at least to my mind, cited in the post: The severe gas-price crisis coincided with (hell, contributed to) a monumental recession; that means that even if people wanted more fuel-efficient vehicles, the economy was such that they weren't buying. Fewer fuel-efficient vehicles leaving the lot obviously means less impact on the country's overall fuel efficiency.
But there's another point it didn't cover, which our own James Tate pointed out way back in August: Our cars keep getting bigger. No matter the strides companies make in fuel efficiency, if they're sticking that technology in larger, heavier cars, the needle doesn't move on the mpg meter. I've often used in conversation Tate's original example of Honda -- the current leader in fuel economy. Honda's smallest model, the Fit, is larger than older model Civics. The current iteration of the Civic is, in fact, larger than older model Accords; modern Accords are practically luxury saloons at this point. No wonder fuel efficiency isn't going anywhere.
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