By Luke Tonachel, Natural Resources Defense Council
New cars are achieving record high fuel economy and cutting carbon pollution to unprecedented levels, according to U.S. automotive data released today. This comes as federal clean car and fuel economy standards tightening each year.
Simply put, these standards are doing what they were designed to do: boosting fuel-saving innovations in cars and light trucks, saving consumers over $29 billion at the pump and reducing pollution that threatens our climate and health.
These standards have already prevented 130 million tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that new vehicles sold in model year 2015 (the latest year of complete data) averaged a record high 24.8 miles per gallon. The less fuel cars and trucks consume, the less pollution they emit.
Model year 2015 vehicles emitted an average of 358 grams of carbon dioxide per mile—a new low, and a 22 percent decrease from 2004.
Not only are clean car standards working, but automakers are actually beating them, according to EPA. Every year since these standards took effect in 2012, manufacturers have produced fleets with lower emissions than what the standard requires. Last year was no exception. Notably, the change in standards from 2014 to 2015 required the largest reduction since 2012 (a decrease of 13 grams CO2/mile), yet automakers cut emissions in their new car fleets to remain 7 g/mi cleaner than the standard.
At the same time as cars are getting cleaner, consumers have been shifting to larger vehicles. The market share for sport utility vehicles (SUVs) hit a record in 2015 at 38%. Consumers are clearly looking for fuel economy improvements in bigger vehicles, and SUVs sold in the 2015 model year reached record efficiency levels.
Pick-up trucks also made some of the biggest fuel economy gains of the year. They jumped 0.8 mpg from 2014.
Cars at 47% of sales are still the largest category among cars, SUVs, minivans and pickups. The EPA data shows cars also hit a new fuel economy record of 29.4 mpg.
Automakers can meet the standards using the technologies they prefer:
Gasoline direct injection (GDI) engines have been a popular path. EPA expects that over half of vehicles will use GDI in their 2016 vehicles. Several manufacturers will use it in over 75% of their vehicles with Mazda (a 2015 fuel economy champ at 30.7 mpg) is deploying it throughout their lineup. Some manufacturers (such BMW, Ford and GM) are combining GDI with turbo charging to get power from a smaller, more efficient engines. Automakers are also improving their transmissions by investing heavily in 7 or more gears (FCA, BMW, Mercedes) and others are focusing on continuously variable transmissions (Subaru, Nissan, Honda). Automakers are deploying these and many more technologies to not only meet standards today, but also set up for future years.
EPA reports that 17% of model year 2016 vehicles meet 2020 standards, mostly with advancements to conventional gasoline powertrains to conserve fuel.
We can expect ongoing improvements in automobile fuel economy and reduced pollution. Despite recent low gas prices, preliminary EPA data shows that the trend in improving new fleet fuel economy will continue through 2016. Fortunately, we have standards in place through 2025 that are very achievable and cost-effective. The standards provide certainty for automaker investments in fuel-saving, low carbon technology, which is what we need to be resilient in a world of volatile gas prices and a changing climate.