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Rising fuel economy standards give new car buyers more choices

April 19, 2012|By Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer
  • Westbound traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 10 just east of the Main Street overpass in Cabazon, Calif. The Natural Resources Defense Council says that motorists are getting better mileage even in situations like these because of rising fuel economy standards.
Westbound traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 10 just east of the Main… (Guy McCarthy / Banning-Beaumont…)

Average prices at U.S. gasoline pumps have been running ahead of the record pace set last year, but rising fuel economy standards have given American motorists many more choices for mitigating pain at the pump, the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

The NRDC's new report on the subject is called "Relieving Pain at the Pump: Thanks to Stronger Standards, Consumers Have More Fuel-Efficient Choices." In it, the , the NRDC pointed out, for example, that the number of subcompacts offering 30 miles per gallon or better fuel economy had tripled from just five in the 2009 model year to 15 in model year 2012.

Overall, “drivers today have twice the fuel-efficient car options than just three years ago," said Luke Tonachel, senior vehicles analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The technology -- and fuel savings -- are only going to improve thanks to even stronger efficiency standards" in the future.

The firm, Baum & Associates, also contributed to the NRDC analysis. Its principal, Alan Baum, added that, unlike earlier years, the fuel economy improvements can be found across the entire spectrum of vehicle types and sizes, even pickup trucks.

“From pickups to SUVs to minivans to cars," Baum said, "automakers are squeezing more out of vehicles with conventional gasoline engines than ever before."

The study showed that the number of midsize vehicles rated at 25 mpg or better had risen from six in model year 2009 to 10 in model year 2012. Also, the number of utility crossover vehicles capable of 20 mpg or better had doubled, from 16 to 32, during the same period.

A truly stunning level of savings is ahead, the NRDC said, when the Obama administration’s 54.5 mpg standard is fully implemented in 2030. On average, the report said, drivers will see $4,400 in fuel savings over the life of their vehicles when the new standards are reached. That's after accounting for the additional costs of new technologies.

Drivers will see a savings of $68 billion annually once the 54.5 mpg standard is reached, the NRDC said, and California motorists will see savings of $7.27 billion.

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