Year of the Green Car: 2012 Autos Set Records

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Natural Resources Defense Council. Author credit goes to Luke Tonachel.

2012 is the greenest new automobile fleet ever. Preliminary data for model year 2012, which ended with September, show that new records have been set for fleetwide average fuel economy and the sales of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles. Dealer showrooms feature an unprecedented choice of fuel-efficient cars and trucks and consumers are buying them. Federal clean car and fuel economy standards are also working as intended to spur automaker investment in fuel-efficiency, which is just what consumers need to protect them from the gas prices pain at the pump.


According to University of Michigan researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, model year 2012 reached 23.6 mpg (window label value), which is 1.1 mpg higher than the previous record of 22.5 mpg for model year 2011.

Mitsubishi i

image copyright EarthTechling

In fact, fuel economy has been on a steady rise over the last five years, largely in response to government action. In 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act that required increases in fuel economy through 2030. Regulatory standards first announced in 2009 developed the program—supported by the auto industry, consumer groups and environmentalists—to carry out the law.

For 2012, the first year of the national clean car and fuel economy program, automakers have exceeded the expectations of the federal regulators. University of Michigan reports that for the CAFE compliance laboratory test cycle, model year 2012 vehicles averaged 29.0 mpg, topping the 28.7 mpg level projected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.

Recent increases in fuel economy have been a resounding success for consumers, our economy and the planet. If 2012 vehicles were stuck at the 2007 efficiency level of 20.6 mpg, drivers would be spending another $8 billion a year to buy over 2 billion gallons of additional fuel annually. Instead, consumers are saving money and carbon pollution from cars has been reduced by 25 million metric tons in 2012, which is equivalent to emissions of 6 coal-fired power plants for a year.


Automakers are adding fuel-saving technologies across vehicle segments, from popular small and mid-size cars to crossovers, minivans and pickups. As I described in a previous post, advancements made to popular models since 2009 are saving drivers thousands of dollars at the pump. The size-based structure of the clean car and fuel economy standards requires improvements to large and small cars and trucks alike.

As auto analyst Alan Baum explains, the fuel economy increase of model year 2012 is unique compared to past instances because the recent average efficiency increase was not primarily driven by an increase in small car sales.[1] While new small car offerings like the Chevy Cruze are very popular, improved mid-size vehicles (which grew 0.8 percent points from 2011) were also strong contributors to a better fuel efficiency average.

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