Average new-car fuel economy keeps falling as SUVs surge


2016 Toyota RAV4 SE

2016 Toyota RAV4 SE

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The average fuel economy of new cars sold in April fell again as SUV sales remained strong.

Two separate analyses show a drop in fuel economy last month, continuing a trend witnessed throughout 2015.

The sales-weighted average window sticker fuel economy of new cars sold in the U.S. in April 2016 was 25.2 mpg, according to researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

DON'T MISS: Fuel-Economy Gains Slowed In 2014, Reversed This Year

That's 0.1 mpg lower than the value recorded for both February and March, and the same average as in January.

The researchers attribute this and other recent dips in fuel economy to increased SUV sales.

The April average was also down 0.6 mpg from the peak reached in August 2014, when higher gas prices encouraged more consumers to prioritize fuel economy.

2016 Honda Pilot

2016 Honda Pilot

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However, the April figure remains 5.1 mpg higher than that of October 2007, when UMTRI researchers began tracking fuel efficiency in new cars.

WardsAuto recorded a slightly higher average of 25.3 mpg for April, but still noted an overall fuel-economy decline.

The April 2016 figure was down 0.2 percent from April 2015, making for the third monthly year-over-year decline in a row, according to the industry trade journal.

ALSO SEE: Plug-in electric car sales for April 2016: Volt romps, Leaf stagnates (update)

The average for the first four months of 2016 was also 25.3 mpg, down 0.3 percent below the same period in 2015.

Gas prices increased somewhat in April, but that didn't dampen consumers' enthusiasm for SUVs and trucks, according to Wards.

Light trucks accounted for 58.8 percent of studied vehicle sales—the highest ever for April.

2016 Ford Explorer

2016 Ford Explorer

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Meanwhile, sales of hybrid, diesel, and electric cars declined compared to the same period in 2015.

Only plug-in hybrids registered an increase, from 0.26 percent to 0.35 percent of the market.

Granted, all of those trucks and SUVs are at least getting more fuel efficient.

MORE: All-wheel-drive hybrid cars, SUVs: why are there so few?

The average fuel economy of new light trucks sold in April 2016 was 21.9 mpg, or 0.9 percent better than in April 2015, according to Wards.

Crossovers reached a record-high 24.3 mpg.

That's a process that will continue as carmakers work to meet stricter Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

2016 Chevrolet Equinox

2016 Chevrolet Equinox

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Carmakers must achieve a fleet average of 54.5 mpg (equivalent to about 40 mpg on the window sticker) by 2025.

They expect to accomplish that by reducing weight, improving the efficiency of small engines, adding more gears to transmissions, and raising the percentage of cars that plug in for some or all of their travels.

In other words, no matter what kind of car they buy, consumers will be getting increased fuel economy in the years to come.

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