WASHINGTON — The fuel efficiency of new vehicles is increasing overall, and if improvements continue, automakers are on their way to meeting the latest federal CAFE standards, according to a new study by the Consumer Federation of America.
First established by Congress in 1975, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards currently require automakers' combined passenger vehicle fleets to average 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The CFA study looked at 1,163 new vehicles and found that the number with an EPA rating of 23 mpg or more climbed from 50.5 percent in 2014 to 52 percent in 2015. And at the other end of the scale, the number with a rating of 16 mpg or less declined from 8.5 percent to 6.1 percent.
So that's good news, both for manufacturers trying to comply with regulations and for consumers hoping to save money on gas.
As the study points out, automakers that have made the greatest improvements in meeting current standards include Volvo, which went from zero percent compliance in 2014 to 29 percent in 2015; Honda, which rose from 51 percent to 57 percent; and Mercedes-Benz, which went from 12 percent to 15 percent.
In a statement, CFA automotive expert Jack Gillis noted that the number of vehicles rated at 23 mpg or more has increased by almost 40 percent over the past ten years.
"In 2015 seven auto companies met or exceeded their 2014 performance," said Gillis. "There is no doubt that since the announcement of higher CAFE standards, many car companies have improved their selection of vehicles with greater fuel efficiency, proving that 54.5 mpg by 2025 is achievable."
However, notes the CFA, despite the overall improvement, some automakers experienced a decline in EPA compliance this year. For example, Kia dropped from 40 percent compliance in 2014 to 18 percent this year; Subaru fell from 52 percent to 43 percent; and GM went from 27 percent to 19 percent.
One reason that some companies experienced a decline in compliance, according to the study, is the recent upswing in sales of newly introduced SUVs and light trucks. The CFA found that these vehicles have accounted for 44 percent of all-new vehicle sales in the 2015 model year, compared to 34 percent for 2014.
Both all-new and carryover models of SUVs and trucks have been selling well lately. As previously reported by Edmunds, recent sales leaders have included SUVs like the Jeep Renegade, Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Edge, as well as pickup trucks, such as the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Colorado.
Even though fuel economy has improved significantly among light trucks and SUVs in recent years, their mileage still tends to lag behind more economical small cars, so as their numbers increase as a proportion of sales, their EPA ratings can have a negative impact on a manufacturer's CAFE score.
Overall, the study notes, the percentage of cars that were CAFE compliant in 2015 was close to the number in 2014 (58 percent compared to 42 percent), but compliance among SUVs and light trucks dropped from 80 percent to 40 percent.
Edmunds says: Even though a few automakers experienced a drop in EPA compliance, the overall increase in fuel economy is good news for consumers.