A study released by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute shows automakers are making progress on their goal of attaining the federal government’s CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) mandate of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.
According to researchers, the average fuel economy on the window stickers of vehicles sold in August was 24.9 miles per gallon, up nearly five miles per gallon since 2007, when the Institute began tracking the data. For the purposes of CAFE performance, the numbers are even better. Excluding adjustments and credits allowed under federal rules, new vehicles sold in August averaged 30.1 miles per gallon, which is the equivalent of a window sticker estimate of about 27 miles per gallon according to Green-car expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists Don Anair.
University of Michigan researcher Michael Sivak says, “The 4.8 m.p.g. improvement in the source of the past six years is significant both by itself and in comparison to the change in vehicle fuel economy over the past 90 years.”
Still some environmental groups say automakers could be doing more. Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign says, “The key issue is whether the industry is doing what it needs to do to achieve the standards.” He says the fuel efficiency numbers are misleading, and do not reflect actual miles per gallon attainable in real world driving habits and conditions. “Turbocharged cars in particular can be very sensitive to the way an individual drives,” says Becker.
Still, no one can deny the improvements in fuel efficiency numbers for large trucks and SUVs. IHS Automotive analyst Philip Gott says, “For a long time there’s been this notion that a truck is a big brute of a thing and that if it’s fuel-efficient, it can’t do the job. The market is finally beginning to realize that’s not the case.”
Luxury carmakers are also embracing more fuel efficient technologies. Cadillac has announced that it plans to launch a plug-in hybrid model and BMW has a new electric model in the works.
While the 2016 CAFE mandate seems attainable, some question whether or not the industry can achieve the 2025 target of 54.5 miles per gallon. Gott says, “There’s a lot of work left to do.” He advocates higher taxes on gasoline and greater government involvement to ensure the goal is met. “We have national goals, and we need to meet them. The automakers are getting to the point where they can’t do it alone,” says Gott.