New projected 2009 US fuel economy figures out from the EPA show that we have now reversed a long-term trend of gradually worsening fuel efficiency since 1987—that bottomed out in 2004 at 19.3 mpg.

While our international readers may find an industry average of 21.1 mpg and 422 grams CO2 per mile a laughable “achievement”—this does represent a real improvement over 2004 levels.

Industry wide, average model year 2009 light vehicles overall are projected to achieve the mileage they got back almost 20 years ago in 1991.

After the Saudi oil shocks of the ’70’s our vehicles rapidly became more fuel-efficient in response. EPA records going back to 1975 show that they got better mileage till 1987, then gradually got worse till 2004. (That is why there was this 25 year age limit for Cash-for-Clunkers; to generally retrieve the worst of the worst from these dark ages off the roads).

Overall fuel efficiency trends:

1. A rapid increase from 1975 through 1981;

2. A slower increase with efficiency peak in 1987;

3. A gradual decrease until 2004; and

4. An increase for the five years beginning in 2005.

This model year’s average CO2 emissions are now 8% lower than 2004’s 461 grams per mile.



While past reports in this series focused exclusively on fuel economy data,this year’s report includes CO2 emissions data as well. In any case, fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are correlated: the more fuel efficient a vehicle is, the lower the CO2 grams per mile figure.

Honda had the highest fuel economy/lowest CO2 emissions with 23.6 mpg and 376 grams per mile CO2 emissions, while Chrysler rated the worst, and was the only auto manufacturer to actually achieve lower fuel economy than in 2004.


Honda: 23.6 mpg  376 g/mi

Hyundai-Kia 23.4 mpg 380 g/mi

Toyota 23.2 mpg 383 g/mi

Volkswagen 22.8 mpg 398 g/mi

Nissan 21.6 mpg 411 g/mi

BMW 21.6 mpg 412 g/mi

Ford 20.5 mpg 434 g/mi

GM 19.9 mpg 447 g/mi

Chrysler 18.7 mpg 476 g/mi

While Honda and Kia beat Toyota to the best performance figures, two domestic automakers have come from behind to make the largest gains in fuel efficiency. Ford and GM.

Image: Underdog

Source: EPA