US fuel economy expected to be higher for 2017 models

US fuel economy for 2016 car and truck models hit a record high of 24.7 miles per gallon (mpg), according to a report released by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The record was set even though some automakers had to purchase credits to meet federal requirements.

While the increase was just 0.1 mpg in 2016, officials expect in 2017, US fuel economy will reach 25.2 mpg.

In 2016, Mazda Motor Corp. led the industry with an average fuel economy of 29.6 mpg, but Honda Motor Co is projected to surpass Mazda in 2017.

“We are confident that our future engineering developments on internal combustion engines… will reinforce our leadership position as the fuel economy champion,” Mazda said in a statement.

Hyundai Motor Co came in second overall and said its performance gives consumers “confidence that the industry can achieve fuel efficiency gains without compromising vehicle appeal, value, customer satisfaction or performance.”

American automakers Ford, GM and Chrysler, had the least fuel-efficient fleets overall.  This is due to a larger share of sales in the pickup truck and SUV markets, where profits are much higher than passenger cars.

A spokesman for GM said that even though the market is shifting away from passenger cars, the company was improving its fuel economy.  GM says rising gas mileage among trucks and SUVs along with sales of electric vehicles is helping boost its fleet’s fuel efficiency.

The EPA reports GM’s fuel economy rose to 23 mpg in 2017, up from 22.4 mpg in 2016 and 22.2 mpg in 2015.

According to Reuters, Fiat Chrysler had the worst record, but the EPA says data from Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler is preliminary, pending completion of investigations and corrective actions.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV bought nearly 2.5 million megagrams of emissions credits in 2016 from Tesla Inc.  The government does not disclose how much automakers pay for these credits.

The rise in fuel economy comes at a time when regulators are considering revising fuel efficiency requirements.  Last March, US President Trump called for a review of US vehicle fuel-efficiency standards enacted by the Obama administration.  Some states, including California, have fought Trump’s decision.

With oil prices flagging, a number of American car buyers have moved to larger pickup trucks and SUVs from small passenger cars.  With this shift, automakers are concerned they will not meet rising fuel efficiency requirements in place through 2025.

Environmentalists argue automakers must make their vehicles more efficient.

In a statement from Safe Climate Campaign, director Dan Becker said that the 2016 fuel economy improvement fell well short of the 1 mpg called for by the Obama administration.

Becker says automakers “have the technology to improve mileage”. He added “the standards need to be strengthened, not weakened”.

Los Angeles Times photo by Anne Cusack.