In light of high gas prices, strong consumer demand and a sea of change in regulations, America’s passenger car fleet is becoming more fuel efficient than ever. A recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that fuel economy in vehicles is currently at an all-time high. To get this far, automakers have pulled out all the stops to achieve better fuel economy across the board.
Meanwhile, many of these advances are also helping to improve the environment by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Not only do drivers end up lowering their fuel expenses, the reduction in automobile-generated greenhouse gases also plays a significant role in solving the problems posed by global warming.
Better Tech and Smaller Engines Equal Better Fuel Economy
Once you get behind the wheel of the average new car, chances are you'll wind up spending less at the pump. According to the EPA, fuel economy for light passenger vehicles averaged 23.6 mpg during the 2012 model year – 1.2 mpg higher than last year’s fuel economy average. Preliminary data for the 2013 model year also shows a 0.4 mpg increase in fuel economy.
The increase in fuel economy over seven of the last eight years comes courtesy of new and improved automotive technologies. The emergence of direct injection, cylinder deactivation and stop/start technology along with the use of variable valve timing, fuel-efficient turbocharging, and supercharging has helped play a critical role in raising fuel economy across the board. Cars like the Chevy Cruze are combining small displacement engines with turbocharging to deliver excellent fuel economy without sacrificing performance or creating excessive emissions.
The biggest motivating factor for these changes is the National Clean Car Program standards mandated by the Obama administration. Under this program, automakers must achieve a fleet-wide fuel economy of 34.1 mpg for light duty trucks and passenger vehicles as well as medium duty vehicles by the 2016 model year, as a recent EPA report notes. By 2025, these vehicles must achieve a fleet-wide equivalent of 54.5 mpg.
Greater Efficiency Also Means Lower Emissions
In addition to higher fuel economy, the EPA’s National Clean Car Program standards also mandate a significant reduction in greenhouse gases. Vehicles must achieve a fleet-wide CO2 level of 250 grams per mile by 2016 and 163 grams per mile by 2025.
Many of the technological advances that make the impressive fuel efficiency of today's engines possible are also helping to reduce tailpipe emissions. Better vehicle aerodynamics, targeted weight reduction, and the use of low rolling resistance tires help engines operate more efficiently through the use of less fuel. Lowered fuel consumption and more efficient burning of existing fuel subsequently helps reduce overall vehicle emissions.
EVs and Hybrids Play a Crucial Role
Sales of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles are also playing a crucial role for reducing CO2 emissions. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, nearly 600,000 new electric drive vehicles, including hybrids and battery electric vehicles, found their way into driveways in 2013.
Countless cities are also expanding their charging infrastructure to better accommodate electric vehicles. For instance, the city of Phoenix now features over 500 available charging stations, many of which are located throughout the downtown area and in outlying areas, according to ECOtality’s Blink Network. A Chevrolet dealer in Phx notes that the Chevy Volt was one of the first electric vehicles to offer extended-range capability. This feature eases the feeling of “range anxiety” while making it easier for drivers to find one of the city’s numerous charging stations without running out of juice beforehand.
The Volt utilizes its advanced plug-in hybrid technology to help improve overall fuel economy while reducing greenhouse gases to negligible or even nonexistent levels. The use of electric drivetrains to supplement and even supplant internal combustion engines also helps reduce vehicle emissions.