Average fuel economy of new vehicle purchases hits record high

An ongoing study conducted by members of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has been tracking monthly sales data of vehicles and their corresponding EPA combined fuel economy for several years. The study has observed a general upward monthly trend in the fuel economy of newly purchased vehicles. For the month of May, it found that new vehicles sold in the U.S. set a record high average of 25.6 miles per gallon.

Researchers say that the sales-weighted average fuel economy that they are tracking is influenced by three forces, including the price of gasoline, federal CAFE regulations, and increased fuel efficiency in the vehicles available for sale. Technology helps drive incremental improvements to the fuel economy of new vehicles on dealers’ lots.

“You would think that it’s only motor driven, but certainly technology in tires, technology in transmissions, technology in the ability to pull up to a stop sign and have the car shut off but instantly start right back up again when you put your foot back on the gas, all of those things are now playing into every one of the vehicles in today’s marketplace getting better and better fuel economy,” said Jim Grundstrom, owner of Frei Chevrolet in Marquette.

According to U of M researchers, the largest influence on the average efficiency of vehicles purchased appears to be the price of gasoline. Car dealers see spikes in sales of higher economy vehicles as gas prices pass certain thresholds.

“As a car dealer, we see magical benchmarks as far as the price of gasoline is concerned,” Grundstrom said. “The consumer public I think is becoming acceptable to the price of gasoline as we have it today, but if it were to creep to $4.00 a gallon, I think we would see another renewed wave of, ‘I need a more fuel economical car or light truck.’ If it got to $4.50 a gallon, obviously you would see tremendous pressure on fuel economy and people maybe attempting to trade a pickup truck in to buy a car because it would be more fuel economical.”

Grundstrom added that in order to compete in today’s market, cars need to provide economy in the 30 mile per gallon range, while light trucks need to provide around 20 miles per gallon. The average fuel economy study is one of a number of projects undertaken by the Sustainable Worldwide Transportation group at U of M.

For more information on their research and results, visit the group’s website.