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Auto Mileage Hits All-Time Record

Mileage keeps rising even as fuel prices fall.

by on Nov.05, 2012

As more high-mileage models, such as the 2013 Nissan Altima, roll into showrooms, the nation's fuel economy average is rising to record levels.

The mileage of the average vehicles sold in the U.S. last month hit an all-time record, according to a new study, even though fuel prices fell across most of the country.

The increase comes despite adjusting for the fact that Hyundai and Kia had to reduce the stated mileage of 13 different models they’ve sold in the U.S. since 2010 in the wake of an EPA Audit. The federal agency, today reported, may audit other manufacturers to see if they have overstated fuel economy numbers, as well.

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The typical vehicle sold in the U.S. in October had an average fuel economy of 24.1 miles per gallon, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.  That’s up 17% from the average in October 2007 when UMTRI became tracking mileage.

Motorists have been shifting to higher-mileage vehicles this year – in some cases downsizing their vehicles but in other instances switching to more efficient powertrains, according to industry data.  The trend varies month-to-month, usually reflecting the ups-and-downs of gas prices. But October saw a continued shift to higher-mileage models even as gas prices began plunging after nearing record highs.

For the moment, however, fuel prices have suddenly dipped about 21 cents over the past two weeks, to a national average of just $3.55.  That was the sharpest decline since gas pumps reached record levels in 2008, according to the oil industry tracking Lundberg Survey.  Prices currently stand at just $3.118 in South Caroline, the lowest in the nation. California continues to have the nation’s highest-priced fuel, at $3.955 per gallon of self-serve no-lead regular. But that’s down from record levels last month.

How the decline will impact sales in November remains to be seen, however, most industry observers believe consumers have generally come to accept the idea that gas prices will keep rising, especially as the economy continues to recover.

The UMTRI Eco-Driving Index, which estimates the average monthly greenhouse gas emissions generated by a typical U.S. motorist, fell to 0.81 in October, a 19% improvement since the university began tracking emissions data five years ago.

The improvement in fuel economy is also being driven by new mileage standards that will reach an average 34.5 mpg in 2016, and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

But some observers question whether the industry is really making as much progress as claimed. That concern was highlighted when the EPA announced last week that Korean carmakers Hyundai and Kia had fudged numbers for 13 different models produced since 2010 – the gap ranges between one and as much as 6 mpg for the Kia Soul.

(Hyundai and Kia admit overstating mileage numbers. Click Here for more.)

The two makers have promised to reimburse owners for added fuel costs. They likely will face government fines, as well, and company officials admit they anticipate lawsuits will be filed on behalf of consumers, as well.

The EPA, charged with overseeing fuel economy ratings, now says there is an “ongoing investigation” and that could lead to audits of other makers’ mileage claims, as well.

(For more on that story, Click Here.)


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