WASHINGTON (July 17, 2000)—Increased sales of sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks has depressed the average fuel efficiency of the U.S. light vehicle fleet to its lowest level in 20 years.
A new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that vehicle fuel economy peaked in the mid-1980s and has been falling ever since. Fuel efficiency for the 1999 model year was 23.8 miles per gallon for all light vehicles, which includes passenger cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sport-utilities that weigh less than 8,500 pounds.
SUVs and other light trucks for that model year recorded an average fuel efficiency of 20.3 mpg, while cars came in at 28.1 mpg. The EPA report states that "the increasing market share of light-duty trucks, which have lower average fuel economy than cars, is the primary reason for the decline in fuel economy of the overall new light vehicle fleet."
However, according to the Automotive Service Association (ASA), critics of the report say that people still care about fuel economy, but the value of cargo space and other features overshadow fuel efficiency.
Fuel economy has been an issue on Capitol Hill for several years, the ASA said, noting that Congress has barred the Clinton Administration from tightening standards. Lawmakers, it added, have included the ban as an amendment to the Department of Transportation appropriations legislation while environmentalists have urged the president to veto the spending bill because of the restrictions.