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October 10, 2011 Autos Insider | New vehicle fuel economy flat at 22.1 mpg in September | The Detroit News

New vehicle fuel economy flat at 22.1 mpg in September

New vehicle fuel economy remains flat in the United States, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The average fuel economy of vehicles purchased in September was 22.1 mpg, unchanged from August.

In the face of lower gas prices and a boost in demand for trucks, average fuel economy of all new vehicles bought last month is at its lowest level in the past year.

Average fuel economy for new vehicle purchases has trended downward since it hit a high of 23 mpg last March.

"This decrease is likely related to a slight drop in gas prices since spring, because people tend to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles when gas prices go up," said Michael Sivak, research professor and head of UMTRI's Human Factors Group.

Despite being at a 12-month low, average fuel economy for new vehicles sold is still 2 mpg better than in 2007.

"Our analysis suggests this long-term improvement in vehicle fuel economy is associated with both gas prices and unemployment being higher now than four years ago," Sivak said.

The research shows that emissions of greenhouse gases per driver of newly purchased vehicles are down 14 percent since late 2007.

In July, automakers, California and the Obama administration agreed to double fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025 — though in real-world driving that will equate to 39 mpg, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

A House committee is to hold a hearing Wednesday on the 2025 standards, while the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have delayed unveiling the proposed regulation until mid-November.

In 2009, the auto industry agreed to hike standards to 34.1 mpg by 2016 — a requirement that will cost the industry $51.5 billion.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — a trade group representing General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp and eight others — said the UMTRI research shows consumers are interested in lots of attributes.

"Fuel economy is really a measure of what consumers are buying. Consumers care about mileage, but they also make car buying decisions on things like passenger room, cargo space and all-wheel drive," said Gloria Berquist, a spokeswoman for the group. "There are more than 160 models on sale that achieve 30 MPG or more, and if consumers bought them in high volumes, the fuel economy would be higher. To achieve the government's higher CAFE standards, we will need consumers to buy our fuel-efficient autos in big numbers."

Last year, EPA said average carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles were 397 grams per mile and the average fuel economy was 22.4 mpg for 2009, the last year for which the government has data.

Emissions have decreased by 64 grams per mile, or 14 percent, and average fuel economy has increased by 3.1 mpg, or 16 percent, since 2004, EPA said.
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