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With US gas prices approaching levels likely to give Americans the summertime blues, both automakers and prospective consumers appear to be trying to minimize the damage by driving fleetwide fuel economy up to unprecedented levels. This year will be the first model year ever in which more than half of the new US vehicles sold will get more than 23 miles per gallon, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says. And if that number doesn't seem particularly unimpressive, consider that fewer than one in five new vehicles were that fuel efficient five years ago.

The CFA culled data on purchases of almost 1.1 million new vehicles and figured out that almost 12 percent of new cars and light-duty trucks get at least 30 mpg while, for the first time ever, no production vehicle got less than 13 mpg. Much of these fuel-efficiency gains have taken place since the passage of the Energy Security and Independence Act (EISA) in 2007, meaning that there's a fair amount of fuel-efficiency momentum going on out there.

The results are consistent with those of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), which said in February that January's new cars got an average fuel economy of 24.9 mpg. That was up 0.1 mpg from December and approached the all-time monthly record set last October (and repeated in November) of 25.0 mpg. The results may be reflecting the steady upward march of US gas prices, which have risen about 35 cents a gallon since the beginning of the year to about $3.65 a gallon, according to AAA. Check out the CFA's press release below.
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For First Time Over 50 Percent of Current Year Models Get More Than 23 MPG; Over 11 Percent Get 30 MPG!

Carmakers are on the road to 54.5 by 2025

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2014) - For the first time ever, over 50 percent of the current year's vehicles get more than 23 miles per gallon (mpg) according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). After categorizing 1,099 2014 passenger vehicle models into 10 different mpg rating categories, CFA concludes that 2014 is a historic year for automakers. This finding is especially significant considering that just five years ago only 19 percent of models got 23 mpg.

"The number of models getting over an impressive 30 mpg is 11.6 percent, a huge jump from the 1.3 percent that got over 30 mpg just five years ago. And, for the first time, there are no 2014 models getting below 13 mpg," said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for CFA and author of The Car Book. CFA selected 23 mpg as a benchmark for this analysis because it is the EPA fuel economy label equivalent to the 30.6 mpg overall corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirement for 2014.

As the data in Figure 1 shows, fuel economy remained relatively stagnant from 2002 to 2008. The first real increase came following the passage of the Energy Security and Independence Act (EISA) in 2007 during the Bush administration. Another jump occurred in 2009 when the "Phase 1" standard for 2012-2016 was announced. ("Phase 1" accelerated the EISA requirements and called for a CAFE average of 35.5 mpg by 2016.) Knowing these standards were coming, the car companies began to significantly improve their offerings in anticipation of the requirements. In fact, 2010 saw the largest single annual increase (over 50 percent) in the number of vehicles with a fuel economy rating of more than 23 mpg. "The automotive industry's shift away from gas guzzlers in the past five years has been stunning with the number of models getting over 23 mpg more than doubling. Automakers are well on the road to meeting the 2025 standard of 54.5 mpg," said Mark Cooper, director of research for CFA.

Figure 2 documents the effect the new CAFE standards have had on automakers as well as the progress they are making towards achieving 54.5 mpg by 2025. "Fully implementing the standard will protect consumers from volatile gas prices, prove profitable for automakers, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lead to a cleaner and healthier environment," said Gillis.

In order to factor vehicle popularity into assessing manufacturer progress towards the 2025 standard, CFA analyzed what are expected to be the top 25 selling[1] 2014 models and how they measure up in meeting the 2014 CAFE requirements. For 2014, all 25 top sellers have at least one model that meets the 2014 CAFE standard. In fact, for 16 out of the top 25 vehicles, the model expected to be the most popular meets the 2014 standard. "This demonstrates that manufacturers are meeting the standards with popular vehicles and consumers are buying them," said Gillis.

This shift toward greater fuel economy will not cost consumers in terms of choice. CFA examined how progress towards new standards could potentially impact market choices and found that consumers would not be forced into undesired vehicle categories. Figure 3 demonstrates significant fuel economy choices within size categories as well as significant size class improvements among manufacturer offerings. Yellow highlighting indicates fuel economy rating categories with a significant number of offerings in that category. The number of models getting at least 23 mpg increased by 118 percent for subcompacts, 245 percent for midsize cars, and 149 percent for SUVs. In every size category, with the exception of mini-vans and pick-ups, consumers are being offered greater fuel efficiency choices in 2014 than they were in 2009. "Tracking these changes provides further evidence that manufacturers are fully capable of meeting the 54.5 mpg standard by 2025," said Cooper.

The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer groups that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.

[1] Exotics and delivery vans were not included.

[2] 2013 sales data were used to predict the top selling 2014 models.

[3] Subcompacts include two-seaters and mini-compacts, compacts include small station wagons, and midsize includes midsize station wagons. Yellow highlighting indicates range of fuel economy with significant choices.