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2008 cars get slightly better gas mileage than the '07 fleet

A government report says the improvement could be greater if Americans buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

September 20, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The average fuel efficiency of the fleet of new cars and trucks rose only slightly in 2008, but the government said Friday an increase in sales of smaller vehicles due to high gas prices could push the numbers higher.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that the average performance of new, 2008 model cars and trucks was 20.8 miles per gallon in 2008, up 0.2 mpg compared with 2007 vehicles, and a 1.5 mpg increase since 2004.

The estimates, which the agency puts on vehicle window stickers on dealer lots, are based on a combination of pre-sale road tests and projections of likely sales of the new models. But with people buying smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles -- and fewer sport utility vehicles and pickups -- those fleet-wide projections were likely to be off the mark, the EPA acknowledged.

The EPA said it was "extremely likely" the 20.8 mpg estimate for 2008 model vehicles was too low.

Honda Motor Co. led the way with a projected 23.6 mpg for all its models, followed by Toyota Motor Corp. with 23.4 mpg. Hyundai Motor Co. was third with 22.6 mpg.

Nissan Motor Co. and BMW had estimated fuel economies of 21.2 mpg and Volkswagen stood at 21 mpg.

Domestic automakers, which in the past have sold more trucks and SUVs, were led by General Motors Corp. with an estimated 19.6 mpg. Ford Motor Co. had an estimated 19 mpg and Chrysler came in at 18.9 mpg.

Among individual vehicle segments, hybrids such as the Toyota Prius (46.2 mpg combined), Honda Civic Hybrid (42.9 mpg combined), and Ford Escape Hybrid front-wheel-drive SUV (31.5 mpg combined) led their peers.

The EPA noted that the estimates were based on sales projections made when gas was selling at $2.50 to $3 a gallon, far below the $3.50 a gallon average during the sales period.

During the year, sales of midsize and large SUVs and large pickup trucks have fallen 15% to 25% below the auto industry's projections, the EPA said.

Fuel-sipping subcompact, compact and midsize cars, meanwhile, have become more popular and vehicles with 4-cylinder engines have gained market share. The EPA said the combined factors could lead to higher fuel economy estimates when more sales data are available.

President Bush signed an energy bill last year that requires carmakers to meet a fleetwide average of at least 35 mpg by 2020, a 40% increase over current standards.

Environmental groups said the report reflected a lack of good options in many vehicle categories. Among larger trucks, for example, there was little difference in fuel efficiency among the best performers and the mediocre ones.

"The American people have not had the choice to buy a clean vehicle except for certain sized sedans and the smallest SUVs," said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign for the Center for Auto Safety.

But Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents GM, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler and others, said the report showed the lengthy list of fuel-efficient vehicles on the market.

More than 100 models offer 30 mpg or better on the highway and they "have become extremely popular recently," he said.

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