America's automobiles are headed in the wrong direction -- at least when it comes
to fuel efficiency, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection
A tiny 3.5 percent of 2003 passenger vehicles -- just 33 of the 934 models
now rolling into showrooms -- can drive 30 miles or more on 1 gallon of gasoline,
according to an analysis of the EPA's 2003 Fuel Economy guide released Tuesday.
That compares to 5.5 percent of 2002 vehicles, or 48 of the 865 models released
last year, that get 30 mpg or better, according to an analysis by the Associated
"It's very unfortunate, given what's going on in the Middle East, that automakers
are continuing to offer products that increase oil dependency," said David Friedman,
senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley.
The EPA has estimated that a driver can save $1,500 over five years by switching
to a car that gets 30 mpg from a 20 mpg model. That's assuming a cost of $1.50
per gallon of gas and 15,000 miles driven each year.
The possibility of a war against Iraq has dramatically increased the price
of crude oil, and lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are tussling over regulations
to lower pollution and conserve the world's limited supply of fossil fuel.
Americans' penchant for large, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles is largely
responsible for a steady decline in fuel efficiency since 1988. Light trucks including
SUVs, whose average fuel efficiency was 17.3 mpg last year, now account for about
half of the new vehicles sold in the United States.
Diane Steed, president of the pro-SUV Coalition for Vehicle Choice, said fuel-efficient
vehicles such as hybrids are well and good -- "but they are not very popular in
the marketplace." The EPA's 10 most fuel efficient models typically make up less
than 2 percent of auto sales, she said.
'VALUING OTHER ATTRIBUTES'
"Right now people are valuing other attributes -- things like towing ability,
seating capacity and cargo space -- higher than fuel economy," Steed said. "That's
because the price of gasoline is pretty cheap at this point."
Environmental advocates called Tuesday's report an indictment of American automakers,
which failed to produce any of the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles, ceding that
ground to Japanese and German companies.
"Until American manufacturers start using modern technologies like better engines,
better transmissions and better aerodynamics, we will continue to pay too much
for gas, pollute too much and be in hock up to our eyeballs to OPEC," said Dan
Becker, a spokesman for the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C.
The Honda Insight, a gas-electric hybrid, occupied the top two spots with a
manual transmission model that gets 64 mpg and an automatic that comes in at 56
mpg. The Toyota Prius automatic, another hybrid, ranked third at 48 mpg.
The Honda Civic manual hybrid ranked fourth and the all-gas automatic Honda
Civic ranked fifth. The manual Toyota Echo occupied the eighth spot while diesel-burning
Volkswagen New Beetles, Golfs and Jettas rounded out the top 10.
Toyota Motor Corp., whose Prius was the first electric car, has pledged to
make all of its products hybrids by 2012 and is gunning to increase its global
market share to 15 percent by 2010.
Among SUVs, the Toyota RAV4 got the best gas mileage, 27 mpg, while five vehicles
tied for the worst with 14 mpg: the Cadillac Escalade, the Cadillac Escalade Ext,
the GMC K1500 Yukon, the GMC K1500 Yukon XL and the Land Rover Discovery Series
According to the AP analysis, the average fuel efficiency of new models dropped
for the third year in a row with the 2003 vintage to 20.1 mpg, a 6 percent drop
from the peak of vehicle fuel economy in the late 1980s.
While the AP number is a simple average of all new models, the EPA tracks fuel
efficiency weighted by sales in its annual Fuel Economy Trends Report, which is
due out later this year.
Last year the average fuel efficiency as measured by the EPA was 20.4 mpg,
and it is expected to come in between 20 and 21 in this year's report, said Dan
Zinger, assistant director in the EPA's office of transportation and air quality.
At its peak in 1988, U.S. vehicles averaged 22.4 mpg, Zinger said.
TOUCHY TOPIC IN CALIFORNIA
The new vehicle data is sure to fuel the heated debate over auto regulation,
both in California and nationally.
Gov. Gray Davis in July signed landmark legislation requiring automakers to
meet not-yet-finalized vehicle emission standards with their 2009 models. California
is the first state to impose such regulations.
The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers, which could not be reached Tuesday,
has pledged to fight the bill.
Congress attempted to address fuel efficiency in a wide-ranging energy bill
this year, but the standards got watered down significantly and the bill had not
passed when Congress adjourned in the fall. The issue is likely to be left to
the next Congress.
Big automakers and the Justice Department, meanwhile, are fighting a California
mandate that 10 percent of cars offered for sale in the state be electric, or
"zero emission." That requirement was supposed to go into effect next year.
And California's phaseout of the gasoline additive MTBE, which is believed
to pollute ground water, is expected to raise the price of gasoline over the next
The EPA's Fuel Economy Guide, which provides detailed statistics for each 2003
model car, van and truck sold in the United States., can be downloaded at www.fueleconomy.gov.
BEST, WORST MILEAGE
The 2003 model vehicles that get the best and worst
fuel economy by vehicle classification, as rated by the Environmental Protection
Agency. Numbers following the vehicles reflect fuel economy first in city driving,
then highway driving, then combined:
Best: Honda Insight (electric-gas hybrid) 61/68/64
Worst: Ferrari Enzo Ferrari 8/12/(no combined figure provided)
Best: BMW Mini Cooper (manual) 28/37/32
Worst: Aston Martin DB-7 Vantage Coupe and Volante (manual) 11/18/13
Best: Volkswagen New Beetle (manual, diesel) 42/49/45
Worst: Ferrari 456 MGT/MGTA (automatic) 10/15/11
Best: Toyota Prius (electric-gas hybrid) 52/45/48
Worst: Bentley Continental R 11/16/13
Best: Honda Accord (manual) 26/34/29
Worst: Bentley Arnage 10/14/12
Best: Chevrolet Impala 21/32/25
Worst: Bentley Arnage LWB 10/14/12
Small station wagons
Best: Volkswagen Jetta Wagon (diesel, manual) 42/50/45
Worst: BMW 540i Sport Wagon (automatic) 17/21/19
Midsize station wagons
Best: Ford Focus (manual) 27/36/31
Worst: Audi S6 Avant 15/21/17
Sport utility vehicles
Best: Toyota RAV4 (manual) 25/31/27
Worst: (five-way tie) Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Escalade Ext, GMC K1500 Yukon,
GMC K1500 Yukon XL, Land Rover Discovery Series II 12/16/14. Flexible fuel vehicles,
when using ethanol (five-way tie): Chevrolet K1500 Avalanche, Chevrolet K1500
Suburban, GMC K1500 Yukon, GMC K1500 Yukon XL, Chevrolet K1500 Tahoe 10/13/12
Best: (two-way tie) Chrysler Voyager/Town & Country, Dodge Caravan (both 2WD)
Worst: Kia Sedona 15/20/17. Flexible fuel vehicle, when using ethanol: Chrysler
Voyager 2WD 13/17/14
Best: (two-way tie) GMC Sonoma, Chevrolet S10 (four-cylinder, manual, 2WD)
Worst: (two-way tie) GMC Sonoma, Chevrolet S10 (six-cylinder, manual, 2WD 16/24/19
Best: (two-way tie) Ford Ranger, Mazda B2300 (both manual, 2WD) 24/29/26
Worst: (two-way tie) Dodge Ram 1500 4WD, GMC K1500 Sierra Denali AWD (both
automatic) 12/16/14. Flexible fuel vehicles, when using ethanol: (two-way tie)
GMC K1500 Sierra, Chevrolet K1500 Silverado (both automatic, 4WD) 10/12/11
Best: (Two-way tie) Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari (both 2WD) 17/23/19
Worst: Dodge Ram 2500 2WD 13/14/14; Flexible fuel vehicle, when using natural
gas: Dodge Ram 2500 2WD 11/19/14
Best: (two-way tie) Chevrolet Astro, GMC Safari 2WD 16/20/17
Worst: (three-way tie): GMC H1500 Savana Pass Van AWD, Ford E150 Club Wagon,
Chevrolet H1500 Chevy Express AWD 13/17/15
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle