- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Average fuel economy for the galaxy of 2003 model cars and passenger trucks is 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent below the high point set 15 years ago.
It is a trend reflected in consumers like Russel Fyock, recently in the market for a compact or midsized car.
"I buy a car for what I need it for, and fuel is just a thing to go along with it," said Mr. Fyock, 64, of Falls Church. "Compared to inflation, gas has remained pretty cheap since the 1950s."
Among the highest achievers, the percentage of the new crop of vehicles getting more than 30 mpg drops to 4 percent from 6 percent a year ago. Only 33 of the 934 cars, trucks and vans listed in the 2003 model annual fuel-economy statistics released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency are that efficient. That compares with 48 of the 865 models available last year.
In 1987 and 1988, before Americans developed a thirst for gas-gulping sport utility vehicles, the fleet averaged 22.1 mpg.
"Clearly it is disappointing that more than 15 years after fuel economy peaked, fuel economy is still hovering around an all-time low," said David Friedman, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, Calif. "And yet the technology is out there. We could be averaging close to 30 to 40 miles per gallon, and that's with conventional technology: nonhybrids, better engines, better transmissions, improved aerodynamics."
This year, three hybrid gas- and electric-powered vehicles the two-seat Honda Insight coupe and five-seat Toyota Prius and Honda Civic sedans top the list of fuel pinchers. Last year, only the Prius and the Insight were designated.
The Insight has 64 mpg combined city and highway driving; the Toyota and Honda sedans, 48 mpg. Next most efficient are four Volkswagen diesel cars and the Toyota Echo.
During the past year, Congress rejected by a wide margin any substantial legislated increase in fuel-economy improvements. Industry officials long have argued that automakers give buyers what they want.
"With gas prices at historic lows, the cost of fuel is not as important as many other vehicle characteristics such as the utility of the vehicle, how many passengers they can carry, cargo and towing and safety features," said Ron DeFore, a spokesman for the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, which lobbies against government fuel-economy rules.
Automakers are required to meet fuel-economy standards set by Congress in 1975 for their entire fleet of models sold, not specific ones. The required average is 27.5 mpg on fleets of new passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for those of light trucks, including pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham were looking at some of the new fuel-efficient cars yesterday while releasing the new Web-based fuel economy guide with emissions and safety data.
Average fuel economy for the 488 cars in the 2003 fuel economy list is 23.6 mpg, marking a continued decline from 23.9 mpg for 2002 models and 24.2 mpg in 2001.
For the 446 models or variations of SUVs, vans and pickup trucks, the average is 17.6 mpg, down from 17.9 mpg for 2002 but above 2001's 17.3 mpg.
By class, the best achievers are compact cars at 26.1 mpg, followed by small station wagons at 24.6 mpg and subcompact cars at 23.3 mpg. Cargo and passenger vans guzzle the most gas at an average 15.7 mpg, followed by standard pickups at 17.1 mpg and four-wheel-drive SUVs at 17.3 mpg.

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