Trending Towards Efficiency: EPA Shows New Vehicles are Saving Money and Lowering Emissions

, , senior vehicles analyst | October 8, 2014, 1:07 pm EDT
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Today, the EPA released the latest version of its annual report, Fuel Economy Trends. As a tech geek and data aficionado, I love this report because it gives a ton of information about what sort of technologies manufacturers are putting into cars and trucks and just how much we are improving fuel efficiency across the board. Below is a summary of some of the key points…

Cars and trucks are getting cleaner…

First and foremost, the EPA report shows that since the latest fuel economy standards went into effect, new cars have improved from an average of 22.6 mpg in 2010 up to 24.1 mpg in 2013. This 7 percent improvement means that drivers are saving nearly $1300 in fuel over the lifetime of the vehicle. In 2013 alone, these more efficient vehicles led to $2.2 billion less spent on fuel and prevented the release of nearly 7 million metric tons of global warming emissions. The fuel saved from these more efficient vehicles last year totaled more than 40,000 barrels per day, equivalent to the production of 130 new U.S. oil wells.

…and this is why:

The ways in which manufacturers are making these more efficient vehicles is extremely varied. As we showed in the Automaker Rankings, there are many technology paths out there, many of which are only just starting to be deployed.

Some manufacturers like Chrysler are focused on improving the efficiency of their transmissions, using a higher number of gears and reduced friction to make sure the engine is being powered at its most efficient point. Manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes are focusing on reducing emissions from the vehicle when it isn’t moving—engines of many of their cars turn off instead of idle, restarting immediately thanks to more robust and powerful electric starters. Mazda, Hyundai, and Kia have been incorporating direct injection nearly across the board in their vehicles, which can boost power and efficiency over the more traditional port-injected engine.  And of course there is Ford, who has put a tremendous amount of effort into its turbocharged EcoBoost engines, which are spreading like wildfire across its fleet and improve upon direct injection by getting even more power out of each combustion event.

Automakers have largely been focused on improving the efficiency of their gasoline-powered vehicles.  For example, the latest Mazda 3 includes technologies like its high-compression, direct-injection SkyActiv engine and active aerodynamics to achieve one of the best fuel economy ratings in its class at 30 city/41 highway mpg.

Automakers have largely been focused on improving the efficiency of their gasoline-powered vehicles. For example, the latest Mazda 3 includes technologies like its high-compression, direct-injection SkyActiv engine and active aerodynamics to achieve one of the best fuel economy ratings in its class at 30 city/41 highway mpg.

Beyond these different “conventional” vehicle strategies, we are also seeing increasing numbers of manufacturers offering electrified powertrains, whether it is the battery-electric Chevy Spark, the plug-in hybrid-electric Porsche Panamera S, or the hybrid-electric Volkswagen Jetta, all of which led to a marked increase in offerings in 2013. In 2014, the choices for consumers have grown even further, with manufacturers now offering 39 different hybrids and 21 plug-in electric vehicles according to the Trends report. This makes a 130 percent increase in models with an electrified powertrain compared to the years before the standards, and every new day seems to bring another automaker announcement.

So what does that mean for the future?

The efficiency gains we are seeing are just the beginning. Automakers today are having no trouble meeting the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards (in fact, they are about 2 percent ahead of where EPA and NHTSA predicted they would be), but these standards are going to continue to get more stringent, pushing manufacturers to get the most out of their vehicles.

Efficiency improvements of the conventional powertrain are going to continue to be at the forefront of most automakers’ strategies, but we are already seeing lightweighting as a major strategy being adopted across the board in the near future, and that has benefits for all powertrains (as the BMW electric i-series can attest to with its carbon fiber construction).  And obviously we continue to expect to see growth in the electric vehicle market, both from plug-in and fuel cell electric vehicles, in response to Zero Emission Vehicle program adopted by California and the 7 “Section 177” states who recognize the need to shift our transportation sector to cleaner fuel choices.

Consumers are demanding these improvements, and if we want to halve the oil, it is of the utmost urgency to see this trend continue. Lucky for us, the automakers are proving up to the challenge.

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