Average Car’s Gas Mileage Hasn’t Gone Up Much Since 1990

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Government mandates haven’t done much to improve the average fuel economy of U.S. cars on the road, according to University of Michigan (UM) researchers.

The study found that on-road fuel economy for all U.S. vehicles included only improved from 16.9 miles per gallon in 1991 to 17.9 miles per gallon in 2015. To put that in some perspective, the average U.S. fuel economy in 1973 was 11.9 miles per gallon.

“After the 1973 oil embargo, vehicle manufacturers achieved major improvements in fuel economy,” Dr. Michael Sivak, a UM professor and co-author of the study, said in a press statement. “However, the slope of the improvement has decreased substantially since 1991.”

Fuel economy for cars, not including light and heavy-duty trucks, improved from 13.4 miles per gallon in 1973 to 21.2 miles in 1991, reaching only 23.9 by 2015.

Fuel economy standards are an attempt to increase the distance traveled per amount of fuel consumed by the vehicle. The government has been increasing these standards since 1990 in an effort to reduce dependence on imported foreign oil as well as environmental reasons.

“One fundamental problem with improving the average fuel economy of the on-road fleet is that improvements in fuel economy for new vehicles take a long time to substantially influence fuel economy of the entire on-road fleet,” Sivak said. “This is the case because it takes many years to turn over the fleet.”

In 2007, Congress authorized $25 billion in loans to automakers to develop fuel efficient cars. Obama encouraged cars companies to pour billions more into fuel economy research as well as increasing regulatory standards to require an equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars. These measures seem to have had little effect.

Ford CEO Mark Fields informed President Donald Trump in January that Obama’s fuel economy standards could place around 1 million jobs at risk if they aren’t adjusted, according to Bloomberg. The CEOs of automaking companies General Motors and Fiat Chrysler seem to have backed this statement up and urged the president to consider allowing them more flexibility to comply with fuel economy standards.

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