Auto manufacturers could greatly improve fuel economy at low cost with existing technology

Improvements would safeguard driving public, maintain availability of popular larger models

provided by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

new study demonstrates that major improvements in the fuel economy of passenger vehicles are achievable at modest cost over the next 10 to 15 years by using designs and equipment that are already in use or soon will be. The improvements could be achieved without compromising the safety of the driving public or downgrading the performance of the light trucks and SUVs that have been so popular with consumers (and profitable for their makers) in recent years. The report indicates that the findings of the National Academy of Sciences CAFE panel, released this August, understate the potential gains. It also shows that the Markey/Boehlert Light Truck Loophole Amendment, introduced in the House, represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of feasible, near-term fuel economy improvements.

    The report, Technical Options for Improving the Fuel Economy of U.S. Cars and Light Trucks by 2010-2015, by John DeCicco, Feng An, and Marc Ross, was published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Its detailed engineering analysis shows that, if auto manufacturers emphasized increasing the fuel economy of vehicles rather than just increasing power and luxury, they could produce a full range of passenger vehicles having an average fuel economy up to 70 percent higher than the current fleet average.

    “That's an average of 41 miles per gallon for the entire new passenger vehicle fleet (cars and light trucks), up from today's 24 mpg,” says Therese Langer, ACEEE's Transportation Program Director. “And the cost of achieving these fuel economy gains would be less than the likely increase in vehicle price over the next 10 years with no efficiency improvements.”

    “These fuel economy improvements involve no tradeoffs in size or power,“ states DeCicco, a Senior Fellow with Environmental Defense. In addition to improved engines, transmissions, and electronics, the study examines optimal use of strong, lightweight materials to selectively reduce vehicle weight in ways that would enhance overall safety. “A unique aspect of our study is that it targets weight reduction where it is needed most, in heavier vehicles such as SUVs,” notes DeCicco. “Our assumed design changes also accommodate widening and strengthening of small cars, resulting in a safer fleet overall.”

    Even further improvements could come from “hybrid” gasoline-electric vehicle technologies, as featured in the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. Although more costly, extensive use of such hybrid technologies could more than double fuel economy while still meeting the most stringent standards for tailpipe pollution.

    The study finds that, if automakers start improving their vehicles in 2003 to achieve an overall new car and light truck average of 41 mpg by 2012, nationwide fuel savings would reach 1.3 million barrels per day as soon as 2010, equivalent to displacing 16 average petroleum refineries. Benefits would grow as improved vehicles spread throughout the fleet. By 2020, savings would amount to 3.9 million barrels per day with a corresponding 33 percent reduction in passenger vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.

    Copies of Technical Options for Improving the Fuel Economy of U.S. Cars and Light Trucks by 2010-2015 are available for $23 (including shipping). To order, contact ACEEE Publications, 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 801, Washington, D.C. 20036; phone: 202-429-0063; e-mail: The Executive Summary is available at

    The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is an independent, nonprofit research group dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of protecting the environment and strengthening the economy. For more information, see our website at