Fuel Consumption, CO2 Pollution Drop Sharply Thanks to Five-Year Boost in Fuel Economy

Analysts at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), who track fuel economy of U.S. vehicles, report that 6.1 billion gallons of gas have been saved ‚Äì and 120 billion pounds of pollution avoided ‚Äì thanks to rising fuel efficiency during the past five years.

In 2007, UMTRI began tracking the sales-weighted fuel economy of all new light-duty U.S. vehicles. Research scientists Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle summarize their five-year findings in a new report titled “The Benefits of Recent Improvements in Vehicle Fuel Economy on Overall Fuel Consumption and Emissions.”

Average fuel economy of new vehicles, they say, has jumped by eighteen percent, from 20.1 mpg in October of 2007 (the beginning of the 2008 model year) to 23.8 mpg in September of 2012 (the end of the 2012 model year.)

Current model year vehicles, in other words, are 3.7 mpg more efficient than the cars and trucks sold in October of 2007. That might not sound like much – but when you multiply the gallons saved per vehicle times the 61 million light-duty vehicles sold during those five years, it adds up to a significant impact on the environment and U.S. energy security.

As a result of driving higher mileage vehicles, Sivak and Shoettle calculate Americans have reduced fuel consumption by 6.1 billion gallons since 2007, based on average driving of about 12,900 miles per year. That’s billions of dollars we didn’t have to spend at the pump, or send to oil producers.

Assuming that burning a single gallon of gas creates about 19.6 pounds of CO2 emissions at the tailpipe, the researchers calculated that the drop in fuel consumption has also reduced U.S. carbon pollution by 120 billion pounds, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of about 13 coal-fired power plants based on EPA emission rates.

Cumulative savings2007-2012 One-month SavingsSept. 2012
Reduced fuel consumption 6.1 billion gallons 293 million gallons
Reduced CO2 pollution 120 billion pounds 5.7 billion pounds

The one-month savings during September of 2012, the analysts calculate, is 293 million gallons of gas, and 5.7 billion pounds of carbon pollution.

Progress in reducing fuel use and pollution in recent years is in sharp contrast, Sivak and Schoettle point out, in relation to very little change over the proceeding seven decades. And the best is yet to come: “The new fuel economy standards, issued in August 2012,” the authors say, “will accelerate this progress.” New standards require fuel efficiency to increase to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by 2025, along with a sharp reduction in carbon and other tailpipe emissions.

Roger Kerson is a Michigan-based media consultant for labor unions and environmental organizations. He was formerly the director of public relations at the United Auto Workers.


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