Average auto fuel economy down in new model year
By John Heilprin
WASHINGTON The 2003-model cars and trucks now reaching showrooms get poorer gas mileage on average than last year's models, reflecting what automakers and many buyers say is a higher priority on comfort and family needs.
The average fuel economy for all 2003-model cars and passenger trucks is 20.8 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's annual gas mileage report released yesterday.
That's down slightly from around 21 mpg last year and about 6 percent below the peak for passenger vehicle efficiency of 22.1 mpg set 15 years ago.
For the 488 models of cars made, the average is 23.6 mpg. The average marks a continued decline from 23.9 mpg for 2002 models and 24.2 mpg in 2001.
For the 446 models or variations of SUVs, vans and pickup trucks, the average is 17.6 mpg, down from 17.9 mpg for 2002 but above 2001's 17.3 mpg.
The share of vehicles getting more than 30 mpg in the new crop falls to 4 percent from 6 percent a year ago. Only 33 of the 934 cars, trucks and vans listed in the EPA statistics are that efficient, compared with 48 of the 865 models available last year.
Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said that while billions are being spent on improvements, "there are significant hurdles to bringing these new models to the market one of the main hurdles being consumer acceptance and demand."
This year, three hybrid gas- and electric-powered vehicles the two-seat Honda Insight coupe and five-seat Toyota Prius and Honda Civic sedans top the list of fuel pinchers. Last year, only the Prius and the Insight were available.
The Insight gets 64 mpg combined city and highway driving; the Toyota and Honda sedans, 48 mpg. Next most efficient are four Volkswagen diesel cars and the Toyota Echo.
Buyers of clean-fuel vehicles and gas- and electric-powered hybrids may be eligible for a $2,000 tax deduction; those buying new electric vehicles might qualify for a tax credit of 10 percent of the vehicle, up to $4,000. Both incentives are being phased out between 2004 and 2006.
In the past year, Congress overwhelmingly rejected any substantial legislated fuel-economy improvement. Industry officials long have argued that automakers give buyers what they want.
Automakers are required to meet standards set by Congress in 1975 for their entire fleet of models sold, not specific ones. The required average is 27.5 mpg on fleets of new passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for those of light trucks, including pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
By class, the latest statistics show, the best achievers are compact cars at 26.1 mpg, followed by small station wagons at 24.6 mpg and subcompact cars at 23.3 mpg. Cargo and passenger vans use the most gas at an average 15.7 mpg, followed by standard pickups at 17.1 mpg and four-wheel-drive SUVs at 17.3 mpg.
EPA chief Christie Whitman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham took a look at some of the new fuel-efficient cars yesterday while releasing the new Web-based fuel economy guide.
"We're just trying to lay it out in an unbiased fashion," said David Garman, the Energy Department's top official for energy efficiency and renewable energy. "We want consumers to buy the most fuel-efficient car available."