Vehicle fuel efficiency up in 2009 model year

Cars and trucks made the biggest year-to-year increase in fuel efficiency in nearly three decades in the 2009 model year, averaging 22.4 miles per gallon, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

The government reported that new vehicle fuel efficiency improved 6 percent last year from 21.0 mpg during the 2008 model year, the largest jump since 1980-1981. EPA said the gains were largely tied to the economic recession as vehicle production fell more than 30 percent to 9.2 million vehicles and more fuel-efficient passenger cars took a larger share of sales.

As the car market recovers, EPA estimates fuel efficiency will improve slightly to 22.5 mpg in the 2010 model year. The figures are based on estimates for city and highway mileage found on window stickers in dealer lots.

Toyota Motor Corp. led the industry in 2009 with an overall fleet of 25.4 mpg, followed by Hyundai Motor Co. with 25.1 mpg and Honda Motor Co. with 24.6 mpg. South Korean automaker Kia Motors Corp. averaged 24.2 mpg, followed by Volkswagen AG with 23.8 mpg, Nissan Motor Corp. with 23.6 mpg and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. with 23.5 mpg.

U.S. automakers lagged behind their competitors. General Motors Co. averaged 20.6 mpg, followed by Ford Motor Co. with 20.3 mpg and Chrysler LLC with 19.2 mpg. GM and Ford were projected to show modest improvements in the next model year while Chrysler was expected to hold steady.

The Obama administration has pushed forward more stringent fuel efficiency requirements that will force carmakers to improve well into the next decade.

Environmental groups said the latest EPA data underscored the need for the tough requirements because sales conditions in 2009 were unusual and an improving economy might boost sales of larger vehicles. The new standards aim to bolster fuel efficiency across the lineup of new cars and trucks.

"Strong fuel economy standards can help guarantee that consumers get what they need when it comes to size and performance and get better fuel economy to fight high gas prices," said David Friedman, research director for the clean vehicles program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the report showed that automakers are producing more vehicles that use less fuel. He said the improvement was "a direct result of consumers' willingness to purchase automakers' more fuel-efficient models in greater numbers."


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