By Rachel Koning Beals
Automakers are 'following the letter of the [fuel-efficiency] standards but exploiting all the weaknesses in the regulation to keep making gas guzzlers,' an energy watchdog warns
Two versions of the Lucid Air, featuring a 500-mile driving range on a single charge, sit atop the updated guide to the most fuel-efficient vehicles.
The report and site, the 2022 Fuel Economy Guide, is aimed at consumers and put out each year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, with research from the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It tracks the fuel economy of new and used vehicles broadly, but is increasingly populated with EVs.
The top 10 "fuel sippers" among 2022 models in the guide are all-electric vehicles offering a minimum of 111 miles per gallon-equivalent fuel economy.
Lucid(LCID), which has been hailed as the "Tesla/Ferrari" of EVs and focuses on the high-end market, went public through a blank-check company deal and the stock started trading on the Nasdaq in July. Its offerings, like many EVs on the market, can include long wait times and require reservations.
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Vehicles on the EPA/DOE site are ranked based on size and class: compact, midsize, small pickup, etc. Hyundai's Kona EV and the Ford(F) Escape FWD hybrid top the popular category of small sport utility vehicles, for example. Guide users can also search by make, with the list breaking down Toyota's most-efficient models, or do a side-by-side comparison of a Tesla Model 3(TSLA) and a similarly-sized competitor.
If the most fuel efficient vehicle by category is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) orall-electric vehicle (EV), the site also lists the most fuel efficient conventionalvehicle. Rankings are based on combined city and highway fuel economy estimates, which assume 55% city driving and 45% highway driving. Vehicle models come in a range of engine sizes and trim packages, which can result in different fuel economyvalues.
Top searches are EVs, hybrids
The fueleconomy.gov site is DOE's most-visited, attracting more than 30 million user sessions in model year 2021 -- more than any year since 2015. The site provides consumers with information to help guide buying decisions for all types of vehicles, including current EV federal tax credits. Interest in EVs is clearly increasing as more models come on the market. In fact, of the top 50 vehicles searched on fueleconomy.gov in fiscal year 2021, 44 were hybrids or all-electric.
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The guide is meant to be used when shopping, too. A fuel economy sticker on new car windows includes the same data as in the fuel economy guide, and the sticker's QR code will bring up that specific vehicle with additional information from the website.
Fuel economy for many conventional gasoline-fueled vehicles also continues to rise, according to this government tracking. Four of the models on the guide's "best in class" list of cars by size are conventionally fueled.
"Gone are the days when consumers who wanted the most fuel-efficient vehicle were urged to drive the smallest cars available," said Stacy Davis, who leads the fueleconomy.gov and Fuel Economy Guide projects at ORNL. "Today, with advanced engines and drivetrains, customers can use the guide to input the car size that best fits their needs."
Standards must tighten, says energy group
But energy watchdogs called out a separate report that tracked how much the industry is following EPA and DOE standards through 2021.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) said the improvement in the 2021 findings from recent years is rising too slowly, and that's in large part due to the size of vehicles on offer and arguably, demanded by consumers.
"We're facing a climate crisis, yet automakers are producing cars that are barely more fuel efficient on average than what they sold a year earlier, even as technology improves," said Avi Mersky, senior transportation researcher for ACEEE.
"They're following the letter of the standards but exploiting all the weaknesses in the regulation to keep making gas guzzlers," Mersky said. "It's terrible for the climate and it costs drivers at the pump, especially now as gas prices are increasing.
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The EPA report shows that 2020 model year light-duty vehicles had an average fuel economy of 25.4 miles per gallon, a 2% improvement over 2019 vehicles.
Federal standards for 2020 model year vehicles -- finalized in 2012 -- targeted a 4.3% improvement over the previous year's vehicles, ACEEE stressed.
A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This assumes the average gasoline vehicle on the road today has a fuel economy of about 22 miles per gallon and drives around 11,500 miles per year, EPA data shows.
The U.S. and other major economies have said they want to cut total emissions in half by the end of the decade and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
"EPA has a critical opportunity in its pending update of vehicle efficiency standards to eliminate the various incentives, credit schemes and multipliers that the manufacturers inevitably exploit. The agency can learn the lesson and eliminate these 'flexibilities' to help ensure the targets it sets now are actually met," Mersky said.
The group's argument centers in part on what it calls the automaker-led shift to larger, heavier and more-expensive vehicles. Fuel standards are set by vehicle size, which ACEEE says allows automakers to miss the topline fuel economy targets since they can change categories.
The group wants future regulation to put a floor on year-over-year increases in average efficiency, regardless of trends in vehicle size.
Automakers were split on tightening fuel standards, and some major companies flipped their position, as the Trump administration sought to lower CAFE standards. It was a position Trump took at the behest of pro-business groups and some automakers and fossil-fuel refiners. Other manufacturers had already retooled for more efficiency, taking their cues from customer demands and tougher state laws, in major market California in particular.
President Biden has pushed for a reversal of the Trump rollback and will set standards, expected to ramp up in 2025, that will be tougher than the Obama era.
-Rachel Koning Beals
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 20, 2021 15:39 ET (20:39 GMT)
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