Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

U.S. cars follow trend toward gas guzzling

October 30, 2002


— The 2003 model cars and trucks now reaching showrooms get poorer gas mileage on average than last year's models, reflecting what automakers and many buyers say is a higher priority on comfort and family needs.

The average fuel economy for all 2003 model cars and passenger trucks is 20.8 miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's annual gas mileage statistics, released Tuesday.

That is down slightly from about 21 mpg last year, and about 6 percent below the peak for passenger vehicle efficiency of 22.1 mpg set 15 years ago.

For the 488 models of cars being made, the average is 23.6 mpg, marking a continued decline from 23.9 mpg for 2002 models and 24.2 mpg in 2001. For the 446 models or variations of SUVs, vans and pickup trucks, the average is 17.6 mpg, down from 17.9 mpg for 2002 but above 2001's 17.3 mpg.

Buyers and industry officials alike say the trends reflect lifestyle choices.

"I like to save money and the cost of gas adds up over time," said Michelle Trevino, 27, of Arlington, Va., who, along with her husband, Josh, just bought a Honda sport utility vehicle after seriously considering a Honda Civic.

"But we're going to start a family soon and going to be moving, and we need the space," she said.

The share of vehicles getting more than 30 mpg in the new crop drops to 4 percent from 6 percent a year ago. Only 33 of the 934 cars, trucks and vans listed in the fuel economy statistics are that efficient, compared with 48 of the 865 models available last year.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said that while billions are being spent on improvements, there "there are significant hurdles to bringing these new models to the market one of the main hurdles being consumer acceptance and demand."

This year, three hybrid gas- and electric-powered vehicles the two-seat Honda Insight coupe and five-seat Toyota Prius and Honda Civic sedans top the list of fuel pinchers. Last year only the Prius and the Insight were available.

The electric-gas hybrid Honda Insight gets an EPA-best combined 64 miles per gallon.

The Insight gets 64 mpg combined city and highway driving; the Toyota and Honda sedans 48 mpg. Next most efficient are four Volkswagen diesel cars and the Toyota Echo.

Buyers of clean-fuel vehicles and hybrid gas- and electric-powered vehicles may be eligible for a $2,000 tax deduction, while those purchasing new electric vehicles might qualify for a tax credit of 10 percent of the vehicle, up to $4,000. Both incentives are being phased out between 2004 and 2006.

During the past year, Congress rejected by a wide margin any substantial legislated increase in fuel economy improvements. Industry officials long have argued that automakers give buyers what they want.

Russel Fyock, recently in the market for a compact or mid-sized car, echoed that sentiment.

"I buy a car for what I need it for, and fuel is just a thing to go along with it," said Fyock, 64, of Falls Church, Va. "Compared to inflation, gas has remained pretty cheap since the 1950s."

Automakers are required to meet fuel-economy standards set by Congress in 1975 for their entire fleet of models sold, not specific ones. The required average is 27.5 mpg on fleets of new passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for those of light trucks, including pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles.

By class, the best achievers this year are compact cars at 26.1 mpg, followed by small station wagons at 24.6 mpg and subcompact cars at 23.3 mpg. Cargo and passenger vans guzzle the most gas at an average 15.7 mpg, followed by standard pickups at 17.1 mpg and four-wheel-drive SUVs at 17.3 mpg.

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