U.S. Fuel Efficiency Standards, 1985-2010

November 16, 2010

If I told you that our government mandated fuel efficiency standards hadn’t changed in 25 years, would you believe me? I don’t think I would have believed myself, to be honest. But if I had gone looking for the facts to back up that claim, I would have found it to be true; Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards remained exactly the same from 1985 up until 2010:

In 1985 the CAFE standard was 27.5 MPG

In 2010 the CAFE standard is 27.5 MPG

In 25 years, we didn’t ask auto makers to make a single change in the efficiency of their product. That’s a long time to go without asking for anything different. What else goes that long without changing? Not much that I can think of. I know that I am quite different today than I was at 13 years old in 1985! Here is how the standards add up over the years (courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) for both passenger cars and light trucks:


Model Year Passenger Cars Light Trucks
2WD 4WD Combined
1978 18.0
1979 19.0 17.2 15.8 17.2
1980 20.0 16.0 14.0
1981 22.0 16.7 15.0
1982 24.0 18.0 16.0 17.5
1983 26.0 19.5 17.5 19.0
1984 27.0 20.3 18.5 20.0
1985 27.5 19.7 18.9 19.5
1986 26.0 20.5 19.5 20.0
1987 26.0 21.0 19.5 20.5
1988 26.0 21.0 19.5 20.5
1989 26.5 21.5 19.0 20.5
1990 27.5 20.5 19.0 20.0
1991 27.5 20.7 19.1 20.2
1992 27.5 20.2
1993 27.5 20.4
1994 27.5 20.5
1995 27.5 20.6
1996 27.5 20.7
1997 27.5 20.7
1998 27.5 20.7
1999 27.5 20.7
2000 27.5 20.7
2001 27.5 20.7
2002 27.5 20.7
2003 27.5 20.7
2004 27.5 20.7
2005 27.5 21.0
2006 27.5 21.6
2007 27.5 22.2
2008 27.5 22.5
2009 27.5 23.1
2010 27.5 23.5
2011 30.2 24.1

Most import manufacturers worked to increase their combined fleet average fuel economy by 1.6 miles per gallon since 1980 and in turn increased sales by 221%, but American manufacturers increased their average fuel economy by 4.1 miles per gallon in the same time period — saw their sales decline. I believe this is because even with the 4.1 MPG increase, American cars had trouble with reliability and got worse mileage to begin with than a typical import.

And while our government can set standards that are supposed to be adhered to, the system allows car manufacturers to pay penalties rather than comply. As of model year 2006, BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati failed to meet CAFE requirements, instead buying their way around the regulations. (PDF)

In May of 2009 President Obama proposed a new national fuel economy program covering model years 2012 to 2016 and requires an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 miles per US gallon in 2016 (of 39 miles per gallon for cars and 30 mpg for trucks), which is a huge jump from the current average. Finalized on April 1, 2010, let’s hope it sticks and doesn’t get overturned, as we cannot afford to go another 25 years without significantly upping our CAFE standards.

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (0)

  1. Carl says:

    CAFE requirements are stupid. We’d burn less gasoline without them! With CAFE, the people who used to drive big cars now drive SUVs — which are less streamlined, more dangerous, and less pleasant to drive on long trips. If you want people to burn less carbon, have a carbon tax. Leave the quotas to the commies.