Home » 2022 Was America’s Most Fuel-Efficient Year Ever

2022 Was America’s Most Fuel-Efficient Year Ever

2024 Alfa Romeo Giulia Tributo Italiano Special Series (european
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It’s taken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency some time, but a massive report on 2022’s state of the automotive industry is out, and unsurprisingly, last year was America’s most fuel-efficient ever. Average real-world new vehicle fuel economy jumped to a new high of 26 MPG, and while that doesn’t seem like a massive figure at first glance, it’s one impressive feat to achieve considering everything that comes with it.

It’s no secret that fuel economy and mass often operate inversely — as cars, trucks, and SUVs get bigger and heavier, efficiency goes down if identical powertrain technology is used. Unsurprisingly, given the shrinking market of sedans and small hatchbacks, the average new vehicle is heavier than it’s ever been, and the average vehicle footprint has climbed noticeably since 2008. However, technology isn’t equal, because manufacturers have been busy with a range of fuel-efficient technologies from transmissions with many gears to full-on battery electric vehicles.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Here’s a nifty chart detailing exactly which automotive manufacturers, categorized by major groups, use which technologies. The hybrid category gets a bit weird, as the EPA counts 48-volt mild hybrid systems as hybrids, even though they can’t propel themselves on electric power alone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, BMW gets a huge lift in this category due to fitment of 48-volt systems on many of its popular models like the M340i and X5 40i. It’s a similar deal with Mercedes-Benz, with 30 percent of that marque’s fleet having some form of electric assistance.

Epa Advanced Technologies Chart

Also interesting: Mazda, Tesla, and Subaru are the only three manufacturers to use a single piece of fuel-efficient powertrain technology on the EPA’s list in every car sold. Obviously, all Teslas are EVs, but all Mazdas and Subarus use direct injection or a combination of direct and port injection. In fact, this is the one fuel-efficient technology every manufacturer can seem to agree with, since 73 percent of all vehicles produced in 2022 use direct injection in some way. The lowest take rate? Well, it’s still EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with only seven percent of all vehicles produced last year using those technologies. According to the EPA, those advanced-fuel vehicles “are projected to reach 12% of production in model year 2023,” so it looks like we’ll just have to hold onto our hats and see if that number’s met.

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Epa Drivetrain Table

Speaking of technologies, the EPA report shows just how much drivetrains have changed over the past few years. All-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive is the new normal, with a whopping 59.6 percent of vehicles produced for America in 2022 being able to send power to every tire. For a bit of “the world you were born in no longer exists” perspective,  all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive only accounted for 26.8 percent of new vehicle drivetrain layouts in 2005.

Now hang on a second — weren’t the corporate average fuel economy standards for 2022 targeting 48.2 MPG for passenger cars and 34.2 MPG for light trucks? How is an average of 26 MPG a good thing? Well, it’s because CAFE is terribly misleading. While much has been said about the footprint model that holds larger vehicles to lower efficiency standards, and the light truck loophole that lets automakers classify certain crossovers as light trucks to meet lower fuel economy standards, there’s a whole lot more going on here than that. For instance, CAFE only uses two-cycle testing for its emissions targets, which means the fuel economy figures targeted by CAFE aren’t indicative of the five-cycle fuel economy numbers on window stickers. As a result, you end up with the optimistic figures in the charts below that illustrate changes in emissions between 2012 and 2022.

Epa Co2 Over Years Chart

And the second-place finisher for the most fuel-efficient passenger car lineup is …Volvo. Pretty wild, right? Also, the reason why the all-makes-combined total numbers don’t quite make sense is because people are replacing their cars with SUVs, pickup trucks, and crossovers. Considering that a good chunk of Generation X came of age when the SUV started to wage war on the minivan, and that Gen X is now in its prime buying power years, this shift towards bigger vehicles makes sense.

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Epa Off Cycle Technologies

Now, let’s talk for a second about performance credits, which can be used to boost an automaker’s CAFE numbers. If a manufacturer uses more efficient or more leak-resistant air conditioning systems, it can get performance credits to offset some tailpipe emissions. Oh, and it gets wilder. Above is a menu of various other things automakers can use to gain performance credits, laid out by automaker and rate of implementation. If a manufacturer uses LED headlights, those can cut emissions in the eyes of the government. It’s the same thing with better glass, fancy grille shutters, cooled seats, and transmission heat exchangers. Sure, each of these pieces of secondary tech may only amount to a few grams per mile of CO2 off of an automaker’s chest, but every gram counts.

Now, the CAFE program primarily hinges on a credit/deficit mechanism, where automakers that come in below thresholds generate positive credits, and automakers that exceed emissions limits find themselves in the red. However, credits can be sold by especially green automakers to especially polluting automakers to ensure overall compliance, and the big winner here is Tesla. The EV marque has sold more than 90 teragrams of CO2 credits, and to put that into perspective, the Great Pyramid of Giza weighs about six teragrams. Look, whether or not this is a good thing is debatable, but it’s definitely happening.

However, a rise in real world fuel economy is a good thing, especially since it hasn’t come at a cost to performance. We’re not in another malaise era yet, and EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan seems to pat everyone on the back in a media release, stating:

We are thrilled to see manufacturers continue to innovate and develop technologies in multiple vehicle categories that have led to a substantial increase in miles per gallon, passing cost savings onto families across the nation.

Hold on, “passing cost savings onto families across the nation” is one hell of a thing to say when the average transaction price of a new car sat $9,653 higher in November 2022 than it did in November 2019. At the current LA County average gas price of $4.715 per gallon as per ABC 7, that price difference could buy 2,047.29 gallons of fuel. Saving fuel is a noble pursuit, but maybe we shouldn’t act like this new fuel economy high counteracts the massive vehicle price increases seen over the past few years. Still, most fuel-efficient year ever. How about that?

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(Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the Alfa Romeo at the top of this article: an all-wheel-drive Giulia has an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 26 MPG, precisely the same as the average new-vehicle fuel economy figure. That’s nerdy, even by my standards.)

(Photo credits: EPA)

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E Petry
E Petry
4 months ago

This would be great if the majority of Americans weren’t in used cars. My tuned X5 actually gets worse MPG than normal due to all of its performance mods.

Ron888
Ron888
4 months ago

I didnt get too deeply into the charts but two things are very apparent.
The EPA seem to giving too much credit for certain technologies that dont deserve it.
And 25mpg average is a fucking disgrace.Really america?

Jakob Johansen
Jakob Johansen
4 months ago

In other news, steam train emmisions lower than ever.

I am surprised anyone cares at all.

The future is electric and surprisingly battery powered.

Space
Space
4 months ago

Looking at the drivetrain chart where FWD vehicles dropped 25% in 8 years can we expect the end of the FWD vehicle in 20 years? Especially with EV’s

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
4 months ago
Reply to  Space

My EV is FWD.

Space
Space
4 months ago
Reply to  NosrednaNod

May I ask what it is?

Dan Pritts
Dan Pritts
3 months ago
Reply to  Space

I think Nissan leaf and Chevy Bolt are both fwd.

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
3 months ago
Reply to  Space

Chevrolet Bolt

Dan Pritts
Dan Pritts
3 months ago
Reply to  Space

Low cost vehicles will always be 2wd. There aren’t many 2wd EVs but as battery costs (hopefully eventually) come down the cost of an extra motor assembly will become more significant.

Space
Space
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Pritts

Very true and there is nothing wrong with 2wd. I thought that most EV’s would be RWD if they are only powering one axle but perhaps there is some advantage to FWD.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
4 months ago

Honestly kind of surprised that it’s as low as 26 mpg. I guess all those brodozers and SUVs really bring it down a notch

Space
Space
4 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

It hurts that the combined number is used instead of highway number. Perhaps the commercial truck/van numbers are hurting the average too? That F-450 every foreman has is getting 10mpg combined.

E Petry
E Petry
4 months ago
Reply to  TheHairyNug

Considering the 2023 Silverado can get 29mpg highway I wouldn’t say so.

TheHairyNug
TheHairyNug
4 months ago
Reply to  E Petry

It’s a combined figure, and the 1500 2WD gets 26 MPG combined, with every other variant getting worse combined figures

Last edited 4 months ago by TheHairyNug
10001010
10001010
4 months ago

Now that we’re back online let me be the first to say that the PASSING GAS (stations) in the lede image is subtle, hilarious, and appreciated!

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
4 months ago

We bought a Kia Niro, its “crossover like” tho I like to call it a lifted hatchback, it can do everything the sportage can do, but its FWD/Hybrid, gets 55mpg! Most don’t need AWD (or a giant car really), also American car companies suck at HEV’s this is what we need right now, if all new cars were getting 40+ mpg (not trucks obs) we’d be a great shape.

E Petry
E Petry
4 months ago
Reply to  Nycbjr

You have to remember most AWD cars and suvs aren’t locked into AWD mode at all times. For example the front wheels on my X5 only come into play when there is slip detected in the rear. But at the same time there’s is still the case of parasitic drag and weight penalty from the awd equipment I’m sure.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
4 months ago

Clicked for the Giulia. Pretty sure I’m not getting 26mpg, partly cause I use the freeway for about 5 minutes once a month at most, but probably more because uh, I really, really like it in fun mode…

Ultradrive
Ultradrive
4 months ago

Ditto for my Stelvio.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
4 months ago

You’re amongst friends, here. You can speak freely.

George CoStanza
George CoStanza
4 months ago

The Alfa also doesn’t consume any fuel when traveling by tow truck.
Try the veal; I’ll see myself out.

Last edited 4 months ago by George CoStanza
Brian Ash
Brian Ash
4 months ago

Besides Volvo, Ferrari is 2nd in % Co2 reduction over the last decade! Pretty sad how little all the other manufacturers needles have moved. Good thing Tesla still sells credits to Stellantis as they are the only ones whose cars got worse!

I think we need Cash for Clunkers 2, trade anything in and get a free Chinese EV.

Nathan
Nathan
4 months ago

“all Mazdas and Subarus use direct injection or a combination of direct and port injection. In fact, this is the one fuel-efficient technology every manufacturer can seem to agree with”

My new Kia Rio has dual-port fuel injection while the previous engine had direct injection, so at least some engines are actually moving away from DI. There is also dual fuel injection on other engines which has both DI and MPi. Dual and dual-port sound very similar but they are different.
https://hyundai.com.sg/global-stories/what-is-smartstream-224/

E Petry
E Petry
4 months ago
Reply to  Nathan

Dual port is the answer. Direct injection was great in theory. But when you factor in the EGR, all it leads to is additional maintenance. (Valve cleaning)

MrLM002
MrLM002
4 months ago

With stuff like the Footprint rule forgive me if I don’t trust the Government to tell me what is fuel efficient and what is not, the very same Government that says

‘Cuz dis car is wider and longer it’s inherently moar fool efficient so we’re gonna lower the MPG requirements, and if you want a small pickup the size of a 90s one it’s gotta get 70 MPG HUR HUR HUR, also even though dang near 60 years after the chicken tax passed our doomestic automerkers still need moar time to make “light trucks” that are competitive with the fur-en automerkers offerings, they just need a little moar time guys!’

EPGCivic
EPGCivic
4 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Lobbying is one helluva drug.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago

If we drove vehicles comparable in size/mass to what we had in the 1990s and streamlined their aerodynamics to cut drag by roughly half, we’d easily be at 45+ mpg instead of 26 mpg. A Corvette C5 with an LS1 V8 can get 30 mpg cruising 70 mph on the highway, for comparison.

26 mpg in this context is kind of terrible.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Hell, dumping AWD would have a noticeable improvement

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
4 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

This! We bought a Kia Niro, its “crossover like” tho I like to call it a lifted hatchback, it can do everything the sportage can do, but its FWD/Hybrid, gets 55mpg!

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
4 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Most oversold feature in the industry. Probably 90% of the people who have AWD would be fine without it. Hell my FWD Kona N is better than a lot of four wheel drive cars I’ve driven in bad weather because of the LSD and weight distribution.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago

AWD is of questionable utility in A to B commuting.

For performance cars that need more traction for acceleration, it’s an excellent feature. You have roughly twice as much potential Gs of maximum acceleration with it vs without.

Most vehicles that have AWD are not performance cars.

The fuel economy difference resultant from the added losses of a transfer case are not much though. AWD vs FWD or RWD is looking at a 1-2 mpg difference in most vehicles.

Brockett Hudson
Brockett Hudson
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

I don’t disagree with the overall theme that AWD is not necessary for a huge number of people, but it is extremely helpful and, arguably, a safety feature for people living in snowy and mountainous terrain. Not a necessity by any means, I drove a FWD Jetta in VT for years and only got stuck a handful of times…but my buddy with an Audi never got stuck.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago

Where you live definitely matters. Most Americans live near the coasts and don’t have to deal with deep snow.

I’m converting my electric three-wheeler to AWD not just for performance, but so that I can operate it with more than 1″ of snow on the roads. With only one rear drive wheel, if the snow gets to be more than 1″, it is currently unusable. The center of mass is right behind the center of the axle line drawn by the front wheels. Having motors on the front wheels should provide sufficient traction for it to go through minor mounts of snow at least.

AWD on an actual car is very handy when the snow is 6″ deep. But there aren’t many days of the year where that is a necessity for most of the US. Vermont is an exception to that rule, You’ve probably got 20-30 days out of the year where AWD makes a big difference in operator safety.

Last edited 4 months ago by Toecutter
Brockett Hudson
Brockett Hudson
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Tell us more about the electric three wheeler! Like is this a completely custom situation, or if not, what’s the base vehicle?

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago

Custom. It’s a sub-100 lb vehicle with a bicycle drivetrain, EV drive system, and an aerodynamic body shell. Where I live, it has the legal status of a “bicycle”. It gets the equivalent of about 4,000 mpg at 30-35 mph with light to moderate pedaling. 1.7 kWh gets it about 200 miles range at the aforementioned speed. It will soon be capable of exceeding 100 mph and out-accelerating most cars.

Dan Pritts
Dan Pritts
3 months ago

Curious, did you and your buddy both use winter tires?

E Petry
E Petry
4 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Most awd vehicles aren’t locked into awd fulltime though. I know bmws xdrive isn’t.

The Schrat
The Schrat
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

When a 1960s Fiat 500 has a good chance of beating a 2010s Fiat 500’s fuel economy numbers, something is wrong.

VanGuy
VanGuy
4 months ago
Reply to  The Schrat

While it’s not necessarily an unhelpful comparison to make, I think overlooking the safety improvements of modern vehicles would also be a big mistake.

I’m more inclined to target the trend of pickups and large SUVs for people who don’t particularly need them.

Toecutter
Toecutter
4 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

This trend of pickups and large SUVs for people who don’t need them is what is accelerating this “safety” arms race. Lighter vehicles have less kinetic energy to dissipate in a collision and are inherently less risk to everyone/everything else that they could collide with. Heavier vehicles just make everything more dangerous in general.

The issue is that the automakers have found that larger vehicles can command more money expended, and that is why this current paradigm exists. If you can sign on the dotted line for an 84 or 96 month payment plan at 11% APR, they think you can “afford” it.

The reality is, if you have to sign a loan of any kind, you really can’t afford it, unless you don’t mind being a slave to the lender…

As soon as the economic conditions shift, reality is going to smack everyone in the face, possibly with grave consequences for all involved. The opportunity soon might present itself for those who have saved their money to pick up their dream car for a fraction of the price. It’s also possible that repeated government bailouts could be part of the reason that conscientious savers end up getting screwed yet again. We’ll see. Chaos is always opportunity, it’s just that you don’t immediately know what the opportunity presented is.

Another Engineer
Another Engineer
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

So much truth here. I’m honored to be the first to “like” it, if 5 days later

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
4 months ago
Reply to  The Schrat

Well, if the 2010s Fiat 500 still had a 0.48L engine and weighed 1100lbs, those fuel economy numbers would be a lot closer

Last edited 4 months ago by Ranwhenparked
Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
4 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Would a Corvette C5 get more than 1 star in a 2023 crash test?

Gee See
Gee See
4 months ago

When I see the Alfa on the banner.. I automatically think it is passing gas stations because it is on the back of a tow truck.

Jnnythndrs
Jnnythndrs
4 months ago
Reply to  Gee See

Every time I see a JLR vehicle on a flatbed, I say to myself “Look! A Jag/Land Rover in its natural habitat!”

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