Average Gas Mileage Relatively Flat Between 1980 and 2004

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the average gas mileage for new vehicles sold in the United States has gone from 23.1 miles per gallon (mpg) in 1980 to 24.7 mpg in 2004.  This represents a paltry increase of slightly less than 7% over the 25 year period.

In order to calculate the average gas mileage for all new vehicles sold within a calendar year, the NHTSA uses a calculation called Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE).  This essentially takes the EPA estimated gas mileage for each make and model sold and weights that estimated gas mileage against the total number vehicles sold during that year.  Click here for a more detailed explanation.

So, with all of the technological and engineering advances over the last 25 years, shouldn’t our gas mileage have gone up more than just 1.6 mpg?  One would think that should be the case, but here are three reasons why there hasn’t been more of an increase in the average fuel economy:

More people are buying Trucks and SUVs.  If you look at the list of the best selling vehicles in 2004, it would look a little something like this:

  1. Ford F-Series (truck)
  2. Chevy Silverado (truck)
  3. Dodge Ram (truck)
  4. Toyota Camry (sedan)
  5. Honda Accord (sedan)
  6. Ford Explorer (SUV)

Since four out of the top six selling vehicles were vehicles that tend to get pretty poor gas mileage, that can’t really help the weighted average gas mileage too much.

For the better part of 25 years, the United States has benefited from inexpensive gasoline.  Until recently, there really hasn’t been much of a need or urgency to create cars that were more fuel efficient because it wasn’t expensive to fill up.  We could be wasteful with gas and still not be wasteful with money.

Let’s be honest here: for as much as people say they want fuel efficient vehicles to help save the environment, the real motivation is lately it has become expensive to fill up and it would be cheaper if people had cars that got better gas mileage.  Money is the only real motivation for most people.

People are sitting in traffic for longer periods of time.  When you don’t move, your gas mileage drops to zero!  In a recent study, the average American’s commute has increased nearly 12% from 1990 to 2000, and over 20% from 1980 to 2000.  That amount of idling will completely ruin any car’s gas mileage (with the exception of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight).

So, it looks like for as much of a big deal as we (America) made regarding this summer’s dramatic rise in gas prices, we are, for lack of a better phrase, reaping what we’ve sown.  For years we’ve bought vehicles that were inefficient with gas, we didn’t care because gas wasn’t that expensive and even if we did have fuel efficient vehicles, we would have wasted it with our driving habits.

Anyway, now that the price of gas is starting to kick us in our collective butts, hopefully this will be a wake up call that we do need to start to develop more fuel efficient vehicles as well as find alternative fuels.

Comments

  1. Stats are for 2004 vehicles? Do people still buy Ford Explorers?

  2. No doubt we’ve traded mileage for size and performance. We used all of the technology advances over the last two decades to produce more power and cleaner emissions. We have faster, cleaner, safer more reliable and longer lasting automobiles. We don’t have better gas mileage.

  3. This just shows how everything american is money based. I would love gas prices to go back down, but they won’t, oil companies are profiting more than ever, they are not about to turn off their cashflow. I’d much rather see a diesel hybrid though using biodiesel fuel from a sustainable net positive source such as algae rather then the wasteful “feel good” E85 or soy based biodiesel that has a net negative energy result.

    —-two pennies hit the floor—-

    • you should look at hemp biodiesel, it is the plant that has the number one return volume of biodiesel from raw plant oil, it returns almost 100% and its extremely easy to make, just try to find an academic database and search hemp biodiesel, i got like 10 different pages with info from studies done about it. it was in these studies that i found hempcrete too. thats an interesting thing in itsself.

  4. “More people are buying Trucks and SUVs. If you look at the list of the best selling vehicles in 2004, it would look a little something like this:”

    Purchasing a vehicle does not change the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The data shows that the efficiency of both cars and trucks has been stagnant since 1980. The author is focusing on mathematics, not an analysis of the data.

    “For the better part of 25 years, the United States has benefited from inexpensive gasoline. Until recently, there really hasn’t been much of a need or urgency to create cars that were more fuel efficient because it wasn’t expensive to fill up. We could be wasteful with gas and still not be wasteful with money.”

    There have been government mandated increases in efficiency for the past 25 years due to the environmental effects of burning gasoline. Car manufacturers barely meet these requirements, and in fact actively avoid meeting these requirements (by reclassifying vehicles for instance).

    “People are sitting in traffic for longer periods of time. When you don’t move, your gas mileage drops to zero! In a recent study, the average American’s commute has increased nearly 12% from 1990 to 2000, and over 20% from 1980 to 2000. That amount of idling will completely ruin any car’s gas mileage (with the exception of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight).”

    The author does not indicate or provide any source concerning whether the increase in commute time* was due to a decrease in traffic flow or an increase in distance.

    Furthermore, ruining mileage by dividing by zero is ridiculous, as the efficiency curve obviously rises quite steeply between 0-5 mph. At just 5 mph, an efficient car might get 10 mpg; at 15 mph, 20 mpg; at 25 mph, 28 mpg; and between 30 mph and 60 mph about 30 mpg. (source (pdf))

    *assumed

  5. This is the source for speed vs. fuel economy: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/FEG2006intro.pdf

  6. The heading “More people are buying Trucks and SUVs” tells only a portion of the story. More appropirate “While consumers may say that fuel economy is important, they spend more their money on larger vehicles, premium features and higher performance”. Fuel economy in this market is just not as important to consumers as some people wish it were.

  7. I’m sorry, but a longer commute time does not have anything to do with the numbers you’re quoting. Do you think that the NHTSA takes commute time into account when they rate a new car’s fuel efficiency? This does not seem like a particularly insightful analysis.

  8. One of the reasons for SUVs and mini-vans becoming so popular is the rise of child safety standards. It’s nearly impossible to fit 3 child seats across the backseat of a standard mid-size sedan or station-wagon, so families have had to buy larger cars. Doesn’t explain the pick-up truck phenomenon, though.

  9. Who the hell are you paying to get linked to by fark so often?

  10. Brian Carr says:

    It just pays to be smart and have a dry sense of humor.

  11. How about these numbers?

    MPG for a 1908 Ford Model T

    City 13 MPG Highway 21 MPG

    MPG for a 2006 Ford Explorer

    City 15 MPG Highway 21 MPG

  12. These numbers may be correct, but they hardly give an accurate representation of the CURRENT market. 1980-2004? In 2004, gas was still cheap, and people were buying Hummers and Escalades like crazy! The Prius was barely a blip ons creens by then, and there was no Scion, no Honda fit, no hybrid Lexus, no hybrid Saturns, no hybrid Civics. Meanwhile, in 1980 we were recovering form the energy crisis, and small cars abounded. Anyone remember the Ford Escort, or festiva? The Le Car? I bet if you compared 1977-2004, or better yet, 2004-2006 youd see a MARKED improvement in average mileage.

    Furthermore, while standing in traffic has dramatically increased in these years, it has nothing to do with the figures. The author says it himself, the figures were calculated by the mileage of all car models on the doar, times those models sales. The mileage listed for car models aren’t calculated by leaving the test car in traffic, they are the best possible mileage for that car under the best possible conditions.

  13. “Furthermore, while standing in traffic has dramatically increased in these years, it has nothing to do with the figures.”

    Sheesh there’s so many things wrong with his analysis that I missed this doozy and went off arguing a tangent about his sources. The numbers he’s using, I take it, are the ones calculated for the best mileage of the engine (i.e. the city/highway predicted mileage), not the actual mileage people get which would be affected by traffic patterns.

    But Overstim there is problem here:

    “I bet if you compared 1977-2004, or better yet, 2004-2006 youd see a MARKED improvement in average mileage.”

    Yes, that’s right but the improvement plateaus in the mid 80′s, which is the point. There hasn’t been an improvement in predicted mileage for 20 years. (And I really doubt there’s been a marked improvement from 2004-2006.)

  14. A honda civic in the 70′s got about 50-60 MPG. Now they get 30.
    I had a 6cyl fullsize car in the late 80′s that got 33MPG.
    My new Hyundai mini car gets 30.
    Something is rotten in Denmark, Detroit, Japan and Korea.
    I don’t know but it has to be Bush’s fault.

  15. Not Bush’s fault, Bob. This trend has been going increasing all through the 90s. Increased fuel consumption. We wanted safer, cleaner cars. The cars are heavier and the engines aren’t build for efficiency. They don’t get better gas mileage than the old days. Even a lot of hybrids pale compared to their older ancestors for fuel consumption. All of this adds to the increasing national consumption rate.

    I think we need to make sacrifices and drive less. The fault starts with us consumers. There’s a lot of talk and not a lot of action taking place.

  16. jack walsh says:

    If auto buyers in the U.S. could get over their dislike for diesels they may find that loaded heavy trucks with 80,000lb gvw are expected to get at least 6MPG. This translates to over 100MPG for a 3500lb gvw car. Just using heavy truck technology would result in a small car having a 30 horsepower engine with lots of turbocharging and an automated 10 speed transmission. We would accelerate more slowly but we would save big time!

  17. No, They are buying Expeditions and Suburbans and Sequoias and (gag) 11 mpg Hummers, all of which are even bigger gas hogs than the Explorers.

  18. “By Bob on Jan 2, 2008 | Reply

    A honda civic in the 70’s got about 50-60 MPG. Now they get 30.
    I had a 6cyl fullsize car in the late 80’s that got 33MPG.
    My new Hyundai mini car gets 30.
    Something is rotten in Denmark, Detroit, Japan and Korea.
    I don’t know but it has to be Bush’s fault.”

    This is the response that we should all be paying attention to (except for the part about Bush. It’s way too complex for that guy to be at the heart of it. You’re almost giving him too much credit).

    But any of us over 35 should put on our thinking caps and remember what fuel economy was back then. The idea of performance vs. gas is BS. A European Smart Car gets some 20MPG more than the US version of the same car. And don’t use the torque or speed argument because the European model gets same torque and higher maximum speed.

    Something is truly rotten in this industry. The information we want is everywhere; we just have to stop being complacent and do our best to change the course history is taking. Otherwise, DEMOCRACY will prove to be the opiate for the masses!

  19. 1980-2004 is only 24 years if no one noticed. Should I really pay attention to this article if the author can’t do basic math?

  20. Bill, I hate to burst your bubble, but if 1980 equals year one, 2004 would then be year 25.

  21. I am all for developing cars with better gas mileage, but the problem there lies with the expense to aquire such a car. With an average income of $44,000 a year per household, most americans cannot foot the bill for one of these $30,000+ hybrid vehicles! At least half of Americans can’t even afford a new vehicle at all! We won’t see an improvement in gas mileage until the public stops driving, which will not happen. we are collectively too lazy to walk or ride a bike. We(myself included) drive big SUV’s or trucks to work, when we only need a small vehicle. I can’t begin to count the number of middle aged women here in texas that drive a 1 ton dually around with nothing in the bed and nothing attached to the rear! They don’t need the truck that gets 11 miles to the gallon, but they sure as hell own it.

  22. Being from Brazil, I can´t even imagine how a 6 liter engine would look like.

    Here the most you get is 4.2, and that´s considered an absurdly big engine.

    But something tells me that that very same 4.2 can outperform the 6.0 american guzzler.

    And that´s because gasoline in Brazil is EXPENSIVE and like they say necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Trackbacks

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