Jan 13, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Why fuel efficiency gains are slow: Consumers want big vehicles

Reproduced from: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Chart: Axios Visuals

Pricing is one reason why wringing carbon emissions out of transportation is hard: Automakers have incentives to sell lots of big vehicles that don't get very good mileage. And they're what consumers want.

The big picture: The average price for new light trucks, a category that includes pickups and SUVs, was 43% higher in 2019 than the average for cars, per this new Energy Department analysis of Commerce data.

  • The chart shows average base prices in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Why it matters: Recently released EPA data shows that the average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the U.S. actually declined slightly in model year 2019.

  • That's because while all types of new vehicles are getting more efficient over time, bigger models' increased share of the sales mix is a brake on the fleetwide gains.

What we're watching: The incoming Biden administration will look to mandate steep increases in fuel economy.

  • The Trump administration scuttled Obama-era rules and instead will require much smaller increases through the mid-2020s than the prior mandates.
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