With the 2012 model year ending in September, auto industry analysts at the National Resources Defense Council and Baum & Associates are calling it the most successful year ever for green cars. Preliminary data suggests the average fuel economy among new cars and the sales of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles are currently at all-time highs. Federal regulations for emissions and fuel efficiency ratings appear to be working just as intended, helping push automakers to invest in developing greener automotive technology. The result? A wider variety of fuel efficient cars on the market, significant boosts in sales and a more competitive landscape moving forward.
Record-high Fuel Economy Ratings
According to researchers at the University of Michigan, 2012 saw a rise in the average rating for fuel economy by 1 mile per gallon – up to 23.5 mpg now from the average of 22.5 in model year 2011.
Although it reached a record high, the increase is not a new phenomenon – EPA ratings have increased steadily over the last five years thanks to a piece of government legislation called the Energy Independence and Security Act, which Congress and President Bush passed in 2007. Thanks to support throughout the auto industry, consumer groups and environmentalists, the new regulatory standards appear to be working the way they were intended.
Taking a moment to consider where we’d be if there were no regulations in place – say we were stuck around 21 mpg, the approximate efficiency level from 2007 – drivers could be spending up to $8 billion more per year, buying over 2 billion gallons of additional fuel. Instead, consumers are saving more money, driving further on a gallon of gas and saving the planet from some 25 million metric tons of carbon pollution.
Improving The Competitive Landscape
As an automaker, if you’re not investing in EVs and hybrid technology, you’re at serious risk of falling behind industry standards. From small and mid-size cars to SUVs, minivans and even pickup trucks, fuel efficiency is now an unmistakably important aspect for vehicles across all segments. We’re even starting to see more subcompact minis etch out their own place in the eco-friendly market. It’s not just small cars that have seen an increase in fuel economy, either – it’s all across the board.
Compared to model year 2009, all segments have seen dramatic increases in the total number of vehicles with high fuel efficiency. That number is only going to increase – why would anyone want a car with sub-standard EPA ratings? Saving money at the pump is now a top priority for consumers, which is going to facilitate competition among automakers moving forward, across all makes, models and segments.
Record Sales For Hybrids and Plug-In EVs
Since 2009, the total number of hybrid models on the market has nearly doubled. 2012 featured an increase of 8 models from the year before, bringing the total up to 41. That means a lot more choices for consumers, across more segments, and the result is a significant increase in total sales. Hybrid sales in 2012 ballooned 55% from the year before, shattering both expectations and previous records.
2012 marked the second year for mass-marketed plug-in EVs – including the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt – and sales tripled in the past year. That puts the total of plug-in EVs on the road at about 50,000. It doesn’t stop there, either – another 10 plug-in models are expected to be unveiled in 2013. It’ll be exciting to keep an eye on the numbers and see how the new competitive landscape affects sales. Combined sales for hybrids and plug-ins are expected to top half a million units in 2013.
While we may take a moment to reflect and celebrate the Year of the Green Car, those involved in automotive technology aren’t going to rest on their laurels. Experts predict we’re on the path to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by 2025 – more than double what it is today. With battery technology finally catching up, consumer interest piquing and a worldwide focus on clean, renewable forms of energy ramping up, it’s an exciting time to go green.