Study: Most automakers' fleets lost ground since '96.
Sharon Terlep and David Shepardson - Detroit News - Nov. 14, 2006
WASHINGTON - Nine of 13 major automakers have a fleet-wide average fuel economy that is lower than a decade ago, according to a study released Monday by the Consumer Federation of America.
As a result, the Washington D.C.-based group is calling on Congress to stiffen mandatory automobile fuel economy standards.
Among Detroit automakers, fuel efficiency declined 0.5 miles per gallon at General Motors Corp. between 1996 and 2005, while the fleets at Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG posted slight improvements, according to the study. Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. boosted its vehicles' fuel economy by 1.5 mpg.
"Improving motor vehicle fuel efficiency is a win-win-win solution that would not only lower consumer costs and help decrease our dependence on oil, but also improve the future prospects of U.S. car companies," said Mark Cooper, the consumer federation's research director. "It is essential that the new Congress move quickly to approve higher fuel efficiency standards in order for these benefits to be realized."
Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents nine companies including GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota, defended automakers' efforts to increase fuel economy.
The auto industry as a whole has made major strides in producing more environmentally sound vehicles, but consumers aren't biting, he said. "Manufacturers offer more than 100 models that have fuel economy over 30 miles per gallon. Yet in all 50 states, consumers purchased more light trucks than passenger cars."
The consumer federation's 13-page report - "Stuck in Neutral: America's Failure to Improve Motor Vehicle Fuel Efficiency" - noted that overall fleet-wide fuel economy has barely changed from a decade ago, up only 0.5 mpg.
The federation also looked at the percentage of vehicles in an automaker's fleet that meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFÉ, mileage standards. In 1996, the standards were 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for trucks. In 2005, they were 27.5 mpg for cars and 21 mpg for trucks.
Eight of the 13 major manufacturers had a higher percentage of vehicles that met CAFÉ standards in 2005 compared to 2006, with Honda Motor Co. showing the biggest gain, 86 percent to 94 percent. GM and Ford had moderate improvement, with a 4-percentage point gain for each.
"It is significant that Ford and GM showed only marginal increases in the percentage of vehicles meeting CAFÉ standards and have suffered severe financial setbacks," the report said.
More trucks and SUV’s
The lack of big changes in overall fuel economy is largely the result of the growing number of shoppers who in the past decade gravitated toward heavier trucks and SUVs that get fewer miles per gallon than more efficient smaller vehicles., the report said. In 1996, passenger cars represented 55.2 percent of all sales; by 2004, that figure had dropped to 43.4 percent.
The consumer federation said consumers aren't properly informed about the most fuel efficient vehicles per class and said automakers' emphasis on advertising and offering incentives on SUVs distorts the market.
While two-thirds of consumers who responded to a federation survey said they were concerned about U.S. dependency on foreign oil, only 64 percent said they worry about gas prices - down from 81 percent in February 2005.
"They might have concerns about oil dependency, but when they go to the showroom they're not purchasing consistent with that," said Tom Libby, an analyst for J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network. "There has been a strong demand for vehicles that are not known for fuel economy."
In a J.D. power survey earlier this year, about one-third of car buyers listed fuel economy as one of the most important factors they consider when buying a new car - far fewer than those who felt reliability was most important.
Regulations distort figures
Automakers say CAFE regulations that gauge fuel economy efforts based on the number of vehicles sold rather than produced distort the market, forcing them to discount smaller cars in order to meet the standards.
On a vehicle-by-vehicle basis, Detroit-made vehicles fared better. Six of the top 10 most improved vehicles are U.S.-made, including the Chevrolet Lumina/Monte Carlo, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram.
Eastpointe's Michelle Palsinski exemplifies buyers' hesitation to give up bigger vehicles for better gas mileage. She stresses about paying too much for gas, but not enough to downsize from a pickup truck to a car. Palsinski figures a minivan is a good compromise.
"Fuel efficiency is definitely something I'm looking at," said Palsinski, who owns a landscaping business. "But I don't want to go too small."
Steven Seelinger likes the roominess and power of a larger vehicle, but not enough to spend $60 to fill his gas tank. Seelinger, who recently started commuting to Oakland University from Pleasant Ridge, traded in his Ford F-150 for a Subaru Impreza. The Impreza, he said, gets 29 mpg on the highway, compared to the Ford's 18 mpg.
"I like the space of a truck, but when you're driving 100 extra miles a week it adds up," he said. "In a perfect world, I'd have both."