EVs and hybrids had a noticeable effect on US fuel consumption, says EPA

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I like the idea of drawing the year to a close with some good news for a change, and I think maybe the US Environmental Protection Agency does as well. On Wednesday, the EPA published its Automotive Trends Report, which now included data for model-year 2022 vehicles.

And the data is good: record-low carbon emissions and record-high fuel economy, and the biggest improvement year on year for almost a decade.

For MY2022, the EPA says that the average real-world CO2 emissions for all new vehicles fell by 10 g/mile to 337 g/mile, the lowest average it has ever measured. Similarly, real-world fuel economy increased by 0.6 mpg for MY2022, to 26 mpg—this, too, is a record high and the single-largest year-on-year improvement for both CO2 and mpg for nine years.

And it’s not a one-off. Despite the occasional off year, the EPA’s data shows that since 2004, US passenger fleet emissions have decreased by 27 percent, or 123 g/mile. And over the same time, average fuel economy has increased by 35 percent, or 6.7 mpg. Even better, the EPA says its preliminary data shows even greater declines in carbon emissions and greater increases in fuel efficiency for MY2023.

The report splits light passenger vehicles into five buckets: sedan/wagon, car SUV (aka a crossover), truck SUV, pickup truck, and minivan/van. (The difference between a car SUV and truck SUV is a regulatory definition that includes weight thresholds and things like “does it have all-wheel drive?”.)

Even more good news here: in MY2022, four of the five categories are now the most efficient they have been since the EPA started keeping tabs on this sort of thing. Sedans and wagons saw their emissions decrease 11 g/mile for MY2022. Car SUVs decreased their emissions by 27 g/mile for the same model year. Pickup trucks recorded an 18 g/mile decrease, and truck SUVs improved by 4 g/mile.

Bad news for minivans, however. Not only are there barely any left for sale—accounting for just 3 percent of new vehicles produced for MY2022—this category also saw its average emissions increase by 17 g/mile.

But I’m also not thrilled that 63 percent of all new vehicles built in MY2022 were truck SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans/vans, which are subject to less stringent corporate average fuel economy standards, as opposed to the more stringent light-duty regulations. The EPA says this is the highest percentage of trucks since 1975, and it’s only going to get worse for model-year 2023.

All you readers who rush to post that “Not Just Bikes” video, cue that up now. Because despite the best real-world fuel efficiency on record, model year 2022 vehicles are larger and heavier than they’ve ever been.

Some of the increase in size and weight is due to improved passive and active safety systems—crumple zones, side-impact protection, better rollover protection, and in some cases almost a dozen airbags throughout the cabin. But some of the growth in size, and much of the increase in power, is down to what the EPA calls “market trends”—it’s what US customers want from their new vehicles, like it or not. And the bad news is that the EPA doesn’t see those trends changing for model-year 2023.

Who did best, who did worst?

The EPA report also calculates trends for each OEM over the past few years, so we can see who’s getting better and who’s getting worse.

I’m often effusive about the engineering and quality of new Korean vehicles, and there’s yet another data point in their favor: They lead the way in fleet average efficiency (29.1 mpg) and carbon emissions (302 g/mile), although obviously brands like Tesla and Rivian that don’t sell any combustion engines have fleet emissions of 0 g/mile.

Kia also showed big gains from 2017-2022, coming in third place after Honda, which actually got dirtier and less efficient over the same timeframe.

Toyota showed the greatest improvement over time, reducing carbon emissions by 32 g/mile and increasing fuel efficiency from 25.3 mpg to 27.8 mpg. Meanwhile Mazda went the other way. It’s now selling many more big SUVs than it used to, and went from 29 mpg for MY2017 to 27 mpg for MY2022.

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