A recent mini-scandal reveals what many drivers have long suspected: The gas mileage claims listed prominently on the windows of new cars can be overstated. Unfortunately, this may not be an isolated incident.
The acronym “EPA” is featured on the mpg ratings of new car stickers, but the Environmental Protection Agency does not conduct fuel economy tests on all vehicles. Instead, according to the Associated Press, how things work is that automakers do their own tests, and “the EPA enforces accuracy by auditing about 15 percent of vehicles annually.” Obviously, this system opens up the possibility that automakers could be inflating their vehicle mpg ratings, purposefully or “by accident.”
After receiving complaints from drivers about the fuel economy of the 2012 Hyundai Elantras, the EPA conducted an audit, which exposed the fact that the majority of 2012 and 2013 Hyundai and Kia models had inaccurate, inflated mileage ratings. For most of the affected cars, sticker ratings had to be lowered by a mere 1 mpg or 2 mpg. The Kia Soul Eco, however, is now rated at 29 mpg on the highway, down 6 mpg from the 35 mpg that used to be listed on the window. That’s quite a bump, one that’ll be noticed by drivers who take fuel economy into consideration when choosing a new car—and who doesn’t do so nowadays?
Australia’s enormous coal deposits long seemed like an unmitigated gift in an expansive land of sweltering summers. On the planet’s driest inhabited continent, fossil fuel delivered cheap, reliable electricity through both extreme heat and torrential storms.
But drought, rampant wildfire in the outback, and the degradation of the treasured Great Barrier Reef have forever altered how Australia views its energy endowment. Facing a future as one of the places on Earth most vulnerable to climate change, and one of the nations with the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions, Australia has taken steps to change its fate. (See interactive: “Four Ways to Look at Global Carbon Footprints”)
This week the government issued its first ever carbon emissions permits, a milestone in implementation of a new climate and energy law that is expected to give Australia the world’s most comprehensive carbon cap-and-trade system by 2015. (Related: “IEA Outlook: Time Running Out on Climate Change”)
Climate activists have hailed the law as a hopeful sign that even one of the world’s most carbon-intensive economies can commit to a different future. But the work is only beginning. In just one indication of the long road ahead, an International Energy Agency fuel economy report last week ranked Australia’s new car fleet as worst among the world’s major economies in carbon emissions per kilometer. Emblematic of Australia’s failure to invest in energy efficiency, it has no binding automobile fuel economy standards. (Related Pictures: “A Rare Look Inside Carmakers’ Drive for 55 MPG”) Historically, only the United States has surpassed Australia in its appetite for powerful engines. And this year, as U.S. drivers have begun flocking to smaller, more efficient cars, Australia has seen an SUV boom. SUVs made up 28 percent of Australia’s new vehicle sales in August, compared to just below 25 percent a year earlier.
Joshua Meltzer, a former Australian diplomat who now is a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute, says his country, much like the United States and Canada, must now grapple with the economy it has built since the Industrial Revolution around its huge fossil fuel deposits. “You have greater urban sprawl, cheaper fuel, greater use of cars, less use of public transportation, larger houses,” than in Europe or Japan, Meltzer said. “At the end of the day,” he added, achieving ambitious emission targets “is going to involve some very significant changes in how people live their lives.”
Well, this doesn’t exactly bode well for the future of hybrids, now does it? Last year, when just 2.2% of all cars sold were hybrids, even the people who had previously decided to buy hybrids weren’t likely to purchase hybrids.
According to data from the auto research firm Polk, only 35% of hybrid owners who bought a car in 2011 decided to go with another hybrid. Remove owners of the hybrid champ Toyota Prius from the equation, and just 25% of hybrid owners who bought a car last year went with a hybrid.
The numbers seem to indicate that hybrid owners—the folks who have in-depth, firsthand experience driving and paying for hybrids—aren’t particularly impressed with them. Like most consumers out there, the majority of hybrid owners are doing the math and coming to the conclusion that, in light of increased fuel efficiency among gas-powered cars, driving a hybrid often doesn’t save money.
Lacey Plache, an economist for edmunds.com, backs this theory up, telling Polk researchers:
“The lineup of alternate-drive vehicles and their premium price points just aren’t appealing enough to consumers to give the segment the momentum it once anticipated, especially given the growing strength of fuel economy among compact and midsize competitors.”
When comparing, say, the Chevy Volt vs. the Chevy Cruze, the former an electrified vehicle that’s rated at 95 mpg but starts at over $39K, the latter a traditional gas-powered car getting up to 42 mpg with an MSRP under $17K, there’s not much debate among the vast majority of consumers. They’re going with the car with worse (but still good) gas mileage and a much cheaper asking price. For the most part, hybrid owners have been coming to similar conclusions when the time comes to purchase a new car.
Ford said Friday that the 2012 Ford Focus Electric has now been certified as the United States’ most fuel-efficient five-passenger vehicle, with a whopping combined 105 MPG rating.
Specifically, the Ford Focus Electric sports a 110 MPG equivalent (MPGe) rating on city streets and 99 MPGe on the highway. Those ratings edge the Nissan Leaf, which boasts a combined rating of 101 MPGe, and 92 MPG for the highway.
As Consumer Reports notes, the Mitsubishi “i” is rated at the equivalent of 112 MPG, but it seats four. The Focus costs $39,995, plus a federal tax credit of $7,500.
“Ford is giving customers the power of choice for leading fuel economy regardless of what type of vehicle or powertrain technology they choose,” said Eric Kuehn, the chief nameplate engineer of Focus Electric, in a statement. “The Focus and Fusion are great examples of how we transformed our fleet of cars, utilities and trucks with leading fuel efficiency.”
According to Ford, Focus Electric label also certifies that the car has a range of 76 miles on a single charge. The Focus Electric can be driven up to 100 miles on a single charge depending on driving habits, Ford said. The average driver drives 29 miles a day, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics website.
I find it encouraging that international barriers to car company cooperation and interdepence have dropped the past thirty years, instead of car companies being an extension of nationalism the troubled ones now work together across borders.
Between 1960 and 1976, the Dodge Dart was one of the best-selling cars in America, with its affordable price and rugged styling. More than 3.5 million Darts were sold.
Though the car was never known for being especially stylish or pretty, Chrysler is now reviving the name as the company continues its own revitalization. On Monday, it unveiled the new Dart at the 2012 North American Auto Show in Detroit.
The unveiling of a new car is the part executives really love. First there’s a preamble — they usually talk about history — then they talk about turbo chargers and torque and horsepower.
“The days of sacrificing horsepower for fuel economy and vice versa are long gone,” Reid Bigland, Dodge brand president and CEO, tells the crowd. “Today you have to have both, and we do.”