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: Cars heavier and faster, but U.S. fuel economy unchanged

07-21-2006, 05:30 PM
From Automotive News:

Cars heavier and faster, but U.S. fuel economy unchanged

Reuters / July 18, 2006 - 7:00 am

WASHINGTON -- New vehicles in the United States are the fastest and heaviest in three decades, with the fleet's fuel efficiency no better than the figure for 1994 -- about 21 miles per gallon, the government said on Monday, July 17.

The mileage estimate for 2006 passenger vehicles continues a recent trend even though gasoline prices have risen steadily and now average $3 per gallon, the Environmental Protection Agency said in an annual efficiency report.

Gains from gas-electric hybrid engines and other fuel saving technologies -- mainly seen in compacts, sedans and other cars -- were noted. But these technologies represent a fraction of what is available in showrooms and bigger models continue to blunt efficiency.

Overall domestic sales were off in June, pulled down by a sharp decline in consumer appetite for less efficient SUVs and pickups.

The EPA's efficiency estimates are less conservative than widely cited calculations used by the Transportation Department for measuring passenger vehicle fuel standards or Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE).

The EPA has proposed tougher government-wide requirements for calculating fuel economy. The Transportation Department is also reviewing its standard for passenger cars to reduce overall U.S. oil consumption, but any change is not expected for a few years.

Gasoline use accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. daily oil demand that averages close to 21 million barrels, government figures show.

SUVs, pickups and other members of the light truck class average 6 miles per gallon less than cars on average and account for much of the decline in fleet-wide fuel efficiency, the EPA said.

For 2006, sedans, wagons and compacts are expected to average 24.6 mpg. SUVs are expected to get 18.5 mpg and pickups 17 mpg.

This year's cars and light trucks are estimated on average to be the heaviest, fastest and and most powerful vehicles ever built for every day passenger use since the EPA began tracking them in the mid 1970s.

Eight major manufacturers account for nearly all sales, but fall into two groups for fuel performance.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Toyota Motor Corp., Hyundai-Kia Co. Ltd. and Volkswagen AG all make vehicles, mainly cars, that average between 23.5 mpg and 24.2 mpg, the EPA found.

General Motors, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.all make vehicles, many of which are the most popular SUVs and pickups, that get between 19.1 mpg and 20.5 mpg.

Since 1992, average fuel economy as measured by the EPA has been relatively constant, ranging from 20.6 to 21.4 mpg. This 21.0 mpg value is 5 percent lower than the fleet-average fuel economy peak of 22.1 mpg achieved in 1987-1988.