Features
3 mar 20

US vehicle fleet sets fuel efficiency record

Is the US lagging in the global effort to clean up transport emissions? Two competing visions: its vehicle fleet broke a fuel efficiency record in 2018 and will likely do so again for 2019; but the improvement is well below a target set by Obama.    

America has a slightly different attitude when it comes to measuring progress on engine cleanliness, as is apparent from the different yardstick it uses. Whereas Europe focuses on emissions per km (typically CO2/km), the US swears by miles per gallon. 

25.1 mpg
By that somewhat cruder measure, some progress has recently been made, reports the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

  • For model year 2017, the US vehicle fleet’s overall fuel efficiency was 24.9 miles per gallon (mpg) – that’s 10.58 km/l.
  • For model year 2018, that figure increased to 25.1 mpg (10.67 km/l), a new record. 
  • Preliminary results for model year 2019 point to a further increase in fuel efficiency, to 25.5 mpg (10.84 km/l). 

Almost all of the 13 largest OEMs in the US saw their average fuel economy increase in 2018. The only exceptions were VW and Hyundai because they sold more SUVs and fewer cars.     

Below target
Climate campaigners point out that despite the record results, the US auto industry’s improvement by 0.2 mpg (0.08 km/l) in 2018 remained well below its target of improving fuel efficiency by 1 mpg (0.42 km/l) for that year. However, EPA officials saw the small increase in efficiency as evidence that Obama’s target for improvement was unrealistic. 

Many OEMs had to buy vehicle emission credits to comply with the 2018 requirements. The EPA’s report shows Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Daimler, VW and BMW bought such credits – while Tesla, Honda and Toyota sold a significant amount. 

Freezing standards
The increase in fuel efficiency happened against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of stricter fuel efficiency requirements instated by the preceding Obama administration. In 2018, Trump proposed freezing fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels through to 2026, erasing the increases enacted in 2012.

Officials from the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are working to finalise an amended version of those rollbacks by 1 April. That current proposal would boost vehicle emission standards by just 1.5% annually from the 2021 to the 2026 model years. That would lead to an average fuel efficiency of 40.5 mpg (17.22 km/l) by 2030. Trump’s initial proposal would have led to 37 mpg (15.73 km/l) by 2026, versus 46.7 mpg (19.85 km/l) under the Obama rules. 

Trump’s rollback of fuel efficiency rules is being contested by a number of individual states, under the leadership of California. 

Image: New York City, view from Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan (Shutterstock)

Authored by: Frank Jacobs