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U.S. Fuel Efficiency

Will Americans ever be able to switch to more environmentally friendly cars?

October 23, 2001

Will Americans ever be able to switch to more environmentally friendly cars?

It is no secret that the United States has a big appetite for oil. The reason? Well, for one, Americans like large cars — and drive a lot. Yet aside from environmental considerations, this appetite poses problems for the United States by creating a dependence on oil from the Middle East — a region that is once again becoming highly unstable. Our new Globalist Factsheet examines the state — and future potential — of fuel efficiency in the United States.

How much fuel do U.S. cars consume?

As of 2001, U.S. cars and light trucks consume 10% of the annual global oil production — about 8 million barrels a day out of 77 million.

(Washington Post)

What is the U.S. record on fuel consumption?

Since 1973, cars in the United States have become nearly 50% more fuel-efficient — rising from an average of 13 miles per gallon to 21 miles per gallon in 2000.

(Washington Post)

What is the impact of Sports Utility Vehicles — or SUVs — on U.S. gas consumption?

The increased popularity of large sport-utility vehicles has kept U.S. fuel efficiency from increasing above the 21 miles per gallon level since 1991.

(Washington Post)

How popular are SUVs and light trucks among U.S. customers?

In 2001, five of the top ten selling cars in the United States are SUVs or light trucks. On average, the top-selling SUVs and light trucks yield only 18.4 miles per gallon.


Why are Americans so unconcerned about their cars’ gas mileage?

Between mid-September and early October 2001, the average U.S. retail price for a gallon of gasoline dropped by nearly $0.18, to an average of $1.35 per gallon — the lowest level since February 2000.

(U.S. Department of Energy)

How does that compare internationally?

In August 2001, the average price for a gallon of gas in France was $3.48, in Germany $3.37, in Italy $3.56, in the United Kingdom $4.17 and in Japan $3.33. On average, gasoline in those countries is almost three times as expensive.

(International Energy Agency)

What amount of energy is actually used on moving the driver?

Cars use only 1% of their fuel energy to move the driver.

(Washington Post)

Is it difficult for Americans to construct more efficient cars?

As of 2001 — using only existing technologies and without harming safety or performance — the fuel economy of U.S. cars could be raised by 17% to 36% and by 27% to 47% for light trucks.

(National Research Council)

Which car is the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the market right now?

As of 2001, the most environmentally friendly car is the Volkswagen Lupo 3L TDI which runs 75 miles on a gallon.


How does this compare to the best-selling cars in the United States?

The ten top-selling vehicles in the United States averaged only 25.7 miles per gallon.

(Washington Post)

What is the market share of U.S. companies in the category of fuel-efficient cars?

In 2001, of the top ten most fuel-efficient cars, only one is made in the United States. Five are made in Japan and four in Germany. Ranking 8, the only U.S. made car on that list is the Chevrolet Prizm.

(Environmental Protection Agency)

How popular are fuel-efficient cars in the United States?

The ten most fuel-efficient cars, as rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, account for only 0.57% of the U.S. auto market.

(J.D. Power & Associates)

And how many of the ten top-selling cars are made in the USA?

In 2001, seven of the ten top-selling cars in the United States are U.S. made — five Ford models, one Dodge and one Chevrolet. The remaining three are Japanese made — two Hondas and one Toyota.


What is some of the technical jargon involved?

CAFE stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy.

(Washington Post)